Norfolk Island's political fate in the balance
Norfolk Island is this week expected to make a direct appeal to the Australia parliament to try and save its unique form of self government.
Norfolk Island is this week expected to make a direct appeal to the Australia Parliament to try and save its unique form of self government.
Norfolk has had significant autonomy since 1979, giving it many of the powers held by Australia's states.
But last week Canberra recommended these arrangements end and be replaced with local council-type governance.
Koroi Hawkins reports.
The Australian government is yet to decide whether or not it will act on the eight recommendations from the Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, but its chairperson, Perth MP Luke Simpkins, says the recommendations are for the good of the residents of Norfolk Island.
LUKE SIMPKINS: They're basically to ensure that there's a better future for those people that live on Norfolk Island. Obviously repeal of self government is one of those proposals, one of the recommendations but their is also the Commonwealth responsibility for upgrading the critical infrastructure and making sure there is enough technical ability on the island to ensure that services and opportunities are available.
But the Chief Minister of Norfolk Island's Legislative Assembly, Lisle Snell, believes it is unnecessary to end self-governance.
LISLE SNELL: We're hoping to make a presentation of a petition in Canberra, to the House of Representatives and the Senate, hoping that they will take note of the communities desire to be more involved in any negotiations with the government level of Norfolk Island, what is to apply here. This is there home and they have a right in how their home is to be managed.
But the resident Australian Administrator for Norfolk island, Gary Hardgrave says the issue has been dragging on for a long time and most people he has spoken to just want a final decision to be made.
GARY HARDGRAVE: I think of the main, people on Norfolk Island are actually relieved that there is now some sort of plan and certainty and direction being offered. This island is the most consulted community in the known world, where there have been dozens and dozens and dozens of reports over many many decades to deal with the economic viability and the governance and political circumstance of the island.
He says the lack of direction has hurt the island's economy and many residents are living in financially challenging circumstances.
GARY HARDGRAVE: I mean the rest of the Committee's report gave a very, very clear set of recommendations about some of the basic economic activity that should be happening here. I have been quite shocked by that there is no economic plan for the island, there is no strategic plan for the island and frankly with a lack of planning you get a poor outcome and that is where the economy now is. In a very poor position.
But Norfolk Island's economy has not always been this way with a thriving tourist industry sustaining it for almost thirty years. A former chief minister Andre Nobbs says this was disrupted by the global financial crisis and what he described as Canberra's refusal to give it stimulus funding.
ANDRE NOBBS: The island had no choice but to actually, really, plead for some form of funding assistance from Australia because there are regulations and restrictions that prevent Norfolk from getting any financial funding from our EEZ or any of those sorts of things that hasn't been the case for Norfolk and it's been quite hard for many who live here who want to be part of a productive outcome.
The present Chief Minister Lisle Snell says they have been knocking on Canberra's doors for a while now.
LISLE SNELL: It's been a part of a recommendation for the last four years. The Norfolk government has been waiting on the Commonwealth to introduce a form of government that would be jointly agreeable to both governments on a partnership basis. We submitted a Norfolk Island preferred model of self-government four years ago and regrettably that hasn't been taken into consideration.
Lisle Snell says Canberra's recommendation will take away the democratic rights of Norfolk Islanders.
LISLE SNELL: They're going to remove the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly as it stands today and returning Norfolk Island to pre 1979 which was a system of colonialism and it's one that we're determined not to go back to.
However committee chairperson, Luke Simpkins says Norfolk Islanders will still have local representation as all they are recommending is a return to a form of local council government like any other town or territory in Australia.
LUKE SIMPKINS: There will still be opportunities for local representation, in the same way any suburb or town in Australia also has a local government system and obviously there is still State Government and the Federal government as well.
But Andre Nobbs says already Norfolk Islanders are fed up with what he describes as a form of bureaucratic rule that has existed on the island since Legislation reforms on Territories in 2010.
ANDRE NOBBS: We've already seen four years of bureaucratic enforced decisions on this island that have been negative. The community had reached the end of its tether recently and was at a point where something needed to be said on that. And that was that this community has a right to be consulted for constitutional change and for major change to this island.
But what ever direction the Australian government takes on the fate of Norfolk the resident administrator Gary Hardgrave says it will be for the better.
GARY HARDGRAVE: With a population of little over 2000 on any given day of the week it's just not a sustainable place and people here are doing it tough and yet once people get here they find that the value for money and, and what they get to see here is just amazing, is unique its a small island only about 36 square kilometres but its been here since 1788, a European style settlement, some of the Australian convict heritage site buildings here are just amazing to see, plus the beautiful coastline the great fishing and so there's a lot going for it.
Norfolk's public petition is expected to be presented to the Australian parliament in Canberra early this week.
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