Looking back over the past year, I am struck by the challenges we have faced – and also the resilience and strength with which you have met, and overcome, those challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic created economic and public health shocks that disrupted lives and livelihoods.
I know for you on Christmas Island (CI) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKI), these disruptions were compounded by the impacts that border and travel restrictions had on your tourism sector.
Thanks to the Australian Government’s $445,000 tourism promotion package for the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT), and the $8.15 million for CI and CKI through the tailored COVID-19 economic stimulus package, we are absorbing some of the impacts on the local tourism sector. We are also progressing projects to ensure that, as tourists return, you have the infrastructure, amenities and services to position the IOT as a bucket-list destination for years to come.
Since my announcement of the stimulus funding in July this year, work is well under way on a raft of community initiatives and projects including the Christmas Island Hospital power upgrades, replacement of the rear deck and stairs of the Chinese Literary Association Building, refurbishment of public housing and improvements to tourist infrastructure.
This year we also prioritised the health and safety of the CI community beyond COVID-19, committing $28.9 million over three years from 2020-21 in the 2020 Federal Budget to manage the risks of storm water, flooding, landslide and rockfall in two popular local areas. Our commitment to funding these crucial infrastructure upgrades provides certainty to the community and tourists alike that CI remains a safe and popular travel location of choice.
While a large portion of our work this year was responding to, and managing COVID-19, we remained focused on the long-term sustainability and economic diversity of the IOT.
Thank you to the Christmas Island Strategic Assessment Community Reference Group for their flexibility in engaging remotely while travel to the island was restricted. I look forward to wider consultations on the draft Strategic Assessment in 2021.
Together with your Administrator, Natasha Griggs, I say thank you, for your resilience, support and commitment to your communities throughout 2020. I look forward to being able to see you again in person early next year to continue our discussions on a range of important issues.
Until then, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season, and urge you to continue to follow local health guidelines to protect yourselves, your families and your community.