FEDERAL Government grants to address climate change issues in indigenous communities will do little to help Torres Strait islanders who are regularly being inundated by king tides because of crumbling sea walls, Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch says.
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Greg Combet yesterday (March 26) announced $2m in grants to help in indigenous communities address inundation.
Mr Entsch said the funding was loose change compared with the investment needed to prevent king tides from flooding low-lying Torres Strait islands.
A report commissioned by Torres Strait Island Regional Council shows $22 million is needed to rebuild sea walls on the six most affected islands of Saibai, Boigu, Masig, Iama, Warraber and Poruma.
“Torres Strait islanders have every right to feel neglected and offended by the Government’s offer of grants,” Mr Entsch said.
“The entire grant of $2 million is a drop in the bucket these Torres Strait islands need the Government to commit to the full $22 million so they do not have to live knee-deep in seawater.
“Their sea walls are collapsing, they’re failing. Each time there is a king tide or storm surge, water is flooding through homes, we have graves being washed away, public infrastructure being damaged or destroyed and roads crumbling.”
The grants were offered to help communities “prepare the unavoidable impacts of climate change”, but Mr Entsch said Torres Strait islanders were already suffering regular flooding because the Federal Labor Government had continued to try to find ways to avoid their obligation through smoke and mirrors and spin.
Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Simon Crean last year made a commitment to Mr Entsch to provide funding to fix sea walls on the Torres Strait islands but reneged on his promise, saying the State Government and council will need to fund the project.
The affected islands have been flooded several times since.
“The way the Government has handled this is like Nero fiddling while Rome burned,” he said.
“These issues can be addressed quickly but it needs funding and it beggars belief that this Labor Federal Government can find $250 million to pay to the UN to assist micro-Pacific countries to deal with climate change issues. But all they can for islands that are continuously suffering major events for the past five years because of failing, aged infrastructure is a grant of up to $2 million to pay for consultants’ reports.
“The reality of the situation is that we already know what the problem is. There is already a comprehensive plan waiting for implementation. That implementation could start today. Communities are ready.
“All it requires is the Federal Labor Government to hand over the $22 million to build the necessary infrastructure and the problem would be solved. This could be done in probably less than two years.
“It beggars belief that Simon Crean and the Labor Government can commit to addressing the problem in August last year then reneging in December and all they can come up with is a Mickey Mouse scheme to justify further consultation.
“This is an insult to Torres Strait island residents and the Government should be condemned.”
Mr Entsch is preparing a private members bill aimed at forcing the Government to investigate the issue and take action to prevent further inundation.