Torres Strait Treaty

    Torres Strait Treaty - Overview

    The Treaty between Australia and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea concerning matters of sovereignty and maritime boundaries in the area known as the Torres Strait, and related matters, is commonly known as the "Torres Strait Treaty". The Treaty was signed in December 1978 and entered into force in February 1985. It defines the border between Australia and Papua New Guinea and provides a framework for the management of the common border area. Both Australia and Papua New Guinea have liaison officers, based respectively at Thursday Island and Daru, who consult regularly on the implementation of the Treaty at the local level.
    As well as defining the maritime boundaries between Papua New Guinea and Australia, the Treaty protects the ways of life of traditional inhabitants in the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ). Subsidiary management arrangements for commercial fisheries in the Zone have also been put in place under the Treaty. The Treaty is recognised as one of the most creative solutions in international law to a boundary problem touching on the lives of traditional inhabitants.
    Traditional inhabitants from Australia and Papua New Guinea, in consultation with their governments, have agreed on the names of 13 PNG villages to have Free Movement privileges under the Treaty. A formal note from Australia acknowledging the full list of PNG villages, which have traditional ties with the Torres Strait Islands in the Protected Zone was exchanged with Papua New Guinea on 28 June 2000. Papua New Guinea exchanged its note with Australia on 25 July 2000, thereby confirming the understanding with effect from that date. The list is:
    (1) Sui (2) Parama (3) Katatai (4) Kadawa (5) Tureture (6) Old Mawatta (7) Mabadauan (8) Sigabaduru (9) Buzi/Ber (10) Tias (11) Mari (12) Jarai (13) Bula
    The Governments also propose that the identification of these villages should not exclude the application of free movement provisions to traditional inhabitants of additional villages, if at some point in the future their inclusion is deemed appropriate by the traditional inhabitants of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
    The Treaty also has a major environmental protection dimension and was one of the earliest international agreements to reflect a greater environmental awareness. The environmental provisions of the Treaty are important for the well-being of the traditional inhabitants; for the preservation of the traditional and commercial fisheries; and for protection of the fragile Torres Strait environment for its own sake. A ten-year prohibition on mining and drilling in the Torres Strait Protected Zone was agreed in the Torres Strait Treaty which entered into force on 15 February 1985. In 2008 Australia and Papua New Guinea Ministers agreed to an indefinite moratorium on mining and drilling in the Protected Zone.
    A range of Commonwealth agencies are involved in the implementation of the Treaty, including the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA), Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs Service (including Border Protection Command), the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS), Department of the Environment and Water Resources, Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT). DFAT also has overall policy responsibility for the Treaty and coordinates the bilateral relationship with Papua New Guinea.

    Consultative Mechanisms

    There are a number of consultative mechanisms in place to progress the implementation of the Treaty.  These are:
    • Traditional Inhabitants Meeting (TIM)
    • Treaty Liaison Meeting (TLM)
    • Joint Advisory Council (JAC)
    As part of the liaison arrangements under the Torres Strait Treaty, Article 18: 2(a), 3(a)+(b), and the government's obligation to keep Traditional Inhabitants informed of relevant developments in (and in the vicinity of) the Protected Zone, the Traditional Inhabitants Meeting (TIM) was formed. This is a forum for traditional inhabitants of both countries to discuss issues and activity in the region, and report concerns to government through their Treaty Liaison Officer.
    Treaty Liaison Meetings, chaired by the Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Officer and PNG Border Liaison Officer, are also conducted and attended by agencies involved in the implementation of the Treaty (Commonwealth, State and Local) represented in the region, together with a PNG delegation. Meetings are held alternately in Australia and PNG and its main purpose is to address issues raised at the TIM and other Treaty related matters such as free movement implementation, illegal activity, customs and police matters, health, environment, quarantine and fisheries.
    The JAC was established under Article 19 of the Treaty as an advisory body of Australian and PNG officials, together with traditional inhabitant representatives. Meetings are held alternately in Australia and PNG. The functions of the JAC are to:
    • seek solutions to problems arising at the local level that are not resolved by the Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Officer and the Papua New Guinea Border Officer located on Thursday Island and Daru respectively
    • consider and make recommendations to the Parties on any developments or proposals which might affect the protection of the traditional way of life and livelihood of the traditional inhabitants, their free movement, performance of traditional activities and exercise of traditional customary rights
    • review from time to time as necessary, and to report and to make recommendations to the Parties on any matters relevant to the effective implementation of this Treaty, including the provisions relating to the protection and preservation of the marine environment, and fauna and flora in and in the vicinity of the Protected Zone
    In the exercise of its functions, the Council is required to ensure that the traditional inhabitants are consulted and given full and timely opportunity to comment on matters of concern to them, and that their views are conveyed in the Council's reports and recommendations. The Council is required to transmit its report and recommendations to the Foreign Ministers of Australia and Papua New Guinea.


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