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Torres Strait Island regional council adopts its first ever planning scheme

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Coconut Island, Torres Strait
Coconut Island, Courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Nearly 25 years after the High Court recognised the native title rights of Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo, locals continue to take ground-breaking steps in the areas of home and land ownership and the protection of their unique cultural heritage.

The Torres Strait Island Regional Council has adopted the Zenadth Kes planning scheme to assist traditional owners to improve their standards of living while preserving the beauty of the natural environment for future generations.

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Mayor, Fred Gela, said the planning scheme established a framework for council decision-making involving the construction of new houses, home ownership, social housing, leasing and future planning.

‘In conjunction with the requirements of native title, Ailan Kastom (island custom) and cultural heritage this will enable good decisions to be made in regard to future land use of the island communities,’ he said.

‘The islands and culture are unique to Australia and the planning scheme has been prepared to accommodate the needs of islanders and the special significance Gogobithiay (land, sea and sky) and Ailan Kastom have for Islanders.’

The Zenadth Kes planning scheme is made up of 15 local plans that will guide development for each of the 15 communities within the Torres Strait Island Regional Council.

Developed in collaboration with community members, the council and their planning consultants and with guidance from the Department of Local Government, Infrastructure and Planning, the scheme will enable everyone to work together in culturally appropriate ways.

Overall, it will standardise development practices to ensure that people and property are protected from poor development outcomes and natural hazard risks.

A key feature of the scheme is that it proactively considers the impacts of sea level rise associated with climate change on potential developments, a very real threat in island communities.

It also underpins security for future home owners as it identifies each individual dwelling and its location in relation to zones and overlays identified in the scheme. This minimises the risk of a tenant purchasing a home in an area that may be impacted by hazards.

While the Torres Strait Islanders may be vulnerable to natural disasters, the region has enjoyed a long and rich cultural history.

The traditional people of the Torres Strait are of Melanesian origin and speak two distinct traditional languages. Torres Strait Creole and English are also spoken.

The first inhabitants are believed to have migrated from the Indonesian archipelago 70,000 years ago when New Guinea was still attached to the Australian continent.

The discovery of pearl shell in the 1860s led to the development of an important pearling industry which lasted for nearly a century. This attracted an influx of divers including Japanese, Malays, Filipinos and Europeans – especially to Thursday Island.

Queensland officially annexed the islands in 1879.

The region gained international attention in 1992 when the High Court of Australia recognised the native title rights of Eddie Mabo, an inhabitant of Murray Island, over his traditional land. The court overturned the previous concept of terra nullius – meaning Australia was empty of inhabitants when it was first settled by Europeans.

Aerial view of Coconut Island, Torres Strait
Aerial view of Coconut Island, Courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland

Last updated: 20 Dec 2021