Norfolk's Pitcairners fear loss of self governance
Pitcairners on Norfolk Island particularly worried at prospect of an end to autonomy.
Norfolk Island's Minister of Cultural Heritage says the people of Pitcairn Island, who make up 47 percent of the population, fear what will happen to their culture if Australia takes away its rights to self government.
Pitcairners were moved to the island by Britain in 1856 and had an autonomous government till the end of the 19th century.
That autonomy was re-instated in 1979 but now Canberra wants to again abolish it and reduce the power of the government to that of a local shire council.
It says many on the island are struggling financially.
A Norfolk Island delegation is now in Canberra to plead for the islanders to have a say in any changes made.
Don Wiseman asked the Cultural Heritage and Community Affairs Minister, Robin Adams, how the Pitcairners would feel if autonomy went.
ROBIN ADAMS: Well, the Pitcairn Islanders I'm sure would agree with me by saying you can never take away from us what is in our hearts, who we are, who we believe we are. There was a letter from a young Norfolk Islander published in the paper on the weekend, and I am going to read it because these words are pretty stirring: "Since 1856 when the Pitcairn Islanders arrived on Norfolk Island, their new homeland, they and their descendants have lived off the land and sea, survived through hardships and wars, lived, loved and lost. But through their efforts, their courage, their blood, sweat and tears over generations, they have formed the heartbeat and soul of Norfolk Island.
DON WISEMAN: Could Norfolk Island survive economically without help from Australia?
RA: It depends entirely on the willingness of Australia to allow Norfolk Island to diversify its economy. Just for example, if I could just put this on the table that Australia has taken from Norfolk Island's EEZ some 276 million dollars since 1979 in fishing in these waters. But Norfolk Island isn't allowed to commercially fish in these waters. Norfolk Island government put up recently Norfolk Island be assisted to set up an offshore banking unit here in partnership with Australia which has the potential to bring many, many, many millions of dollars to this community. A share in the 276 million dollars that it's said is Australia has earned from our EEZ would have gone a long way towards Norfolk Island's sustainability and we would perhaps not be in the position that we are in today. Pre 2010, Norfolk Island has only needed two interest free loans from Australia and those were to fix up commonwealth assets. In 2010, Norfolk Island having been financially hit by the global meltdown went from 35,000 visitors down to 20 to 22,000 visitors a year. We hit the wall, we couldn't not hit a wall. Running an airline, losing that amount of visitors to the island, and still thinking that we could be sustainable without any other diversification of our economy. And diversification of the economy is totally dependent on the Commonwealth, if it is to be any way major. For example, I as minister, recently issued a licence for the establishment of a medicinal cannabis industry on Norfolk Island. For whatever reasons the Commonwealth decision was taken to squash that licence. Australia we now hear is putting it in place. There's more to the story, there's two sides to every story, and not always what is going out in the media. Norfolk Island government, Norfolk Island parliament, acknowledges the need for reform. We do not want to be a burden on the Australian taxpayer. We want to pay our way. But there are ways to go about doing business and if the Australian government would just sit down at the negotiation table in a proper way with the Norfolk Island parliament and the Norfolk Island government and find out the best way forward that acknowledges the Pitcairn people, that their self government is not removed, that their parliament is not lost. Surely that is a win win solution for all people.
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