Helping to Close the Gap

Closing the GapThe 2016 Closing the Gap report is at the forefront of the nation’s thinking this week so it’s great to be able to reflect at such a time that Transport and Main Roads has for some years now been influencing positive change through maritime training for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people.

To be born a Torres Strait Islander is to be born with salt air filling your nostrils. While that might sound idyllic to many of us the practical reality is that if, as a Torres Strait Islander, you need to go anywhere beyond your own island shores it usually entails getting into a boat. That has led Torres Strait Islanders to develop a natural affinity with the sea.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve had the means to travel safely in what, navigationally speaking, is a very challenging area – or to turn their affinity with the sea to their commercial advantage.

The various levels of government many years ago became concerned about the numbers of Torres Strait Islanders who went missing at sea, never to return to their families, or otherwise found themselves the subjects of search and rescue missions by maritime authorities.

So Maritime Safety Queensland (a branch of Transport and Main Roads), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Torres Strait Regional Council formed a partnership and have worked together since 2006 on various initiatives to improve the survival rates of Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people at sea.

Since 2013 that partnership has extended to developing the maritime skills of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people through the Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Program so that career options open up for them.

Since 13 November, 95% of 170 participants in the Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Program have completed training and achieved nationally accredited qualifications, 87% are employed in maritime-related businesses like fishing, diving, passenger ferries, maritime training and government vessel operations and 6 have become employers – providing jobs for their communities.

Transport and Main Roads is proud to have been instrumental not ‘just’ in saving lives but also in helping Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people into fulfilling livelihoods and equipping them to coach the next generation of local seafarers on safer boating practices.

Those are rewards in and of themselves, while also helping to ‘close the gap’. Our staff in the Thursday Island and Cairns offices of Maritime Safety Queensland deserve particular thanks for their outstanding work in this area.

Patrick Quirk
General Manager Maritime Safety Queensland