As we reach the end of another year, I am keen to acknowledge what we have achieved in the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT) – and the positive progress we have made for communities in this region over the past twelve months.
While the year has not been without its challenges, when I think back on 2023, I am proud of the significant headway we have made on our shared priorities.
I was excited to make my first trip to Christmas Island (CI) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKI) earlier this year, which allowed me to gain first-hand insight into both the challenges and opportunities for communities in the IOT.
I enjoyed touring local infrastructure, businesses and facilities, visiting health services and the schools, and hearing directly from locals on their key priorities.
This has helped me better understand how the Albanese Labor Government can support a stronger and more resilient region, by backing community-led initiatives.
The appointment of Ms Farzian Zainal – a fourth-generation Christmas Islander – as Administrator marked a new era of locally-driven representation.
Already off to a flying start, I look forward to working closely with Farzian in 2024, as we advance local priorities together.
Across the globe, we have seen increases to the cost-of-living in 2023, and the IOT is not immune from this, which is why we have worked hard to deliver support to locals where it counts.
As part of this work, we are rolling out the Energy Bill Relief Fund in the IOT.
Rebates will be applied to CI and CKI household and business accounts in the January billing cycle.
Every cent counts, which is why we are delivering this targeted and temporary relief to save eligible IOT residents hundreds of dollars on their energy bills.
While focused on immediate pressures, what I have been most proud of this year is the longer-term opportunities that we have laid the foundations for.
The June expansion of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) to include CI and CKI is a significant step towards building a region that is stronger and better prepared for future challenges.
It was great to see the NAIF team visit the islands to meet with local businesses, organisations and other stakeholders to discuss a number of diverse opportunities.
The success of the Innovative Agricultural Trials this year has demonstrated a pathway forward for growing fresh and affordable produce in the region.
This will reduce the reliance on importing fresh produce at high prices, and supports self-sufficiency in a region with abundant natural assets and resources.
The ongoing embedding of the community-based fisheries management framework in partnership with the Shires is a demonstration of local commitment to a sustainable future for your homes and natural resources.
I also thank the Western Australian Government and its agencies for our ongoing and productive partnership, and for their positive approach to enabling service delivery in the IOT.
In 2024, we will continue to improve the delivery of essential services in the region, and will work closely with locals to maximise new opportunities and to drive practical solutions.
I wish you and your families a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year.