Australia needs to involve Norfolk Islanders - academic
An academic says Norfolk Islanders should have a chance to have a say in their future political status.
A New Zealand academic says the people of Norfolk Island have a case in saying Australia's changes to the island's status do not recognise their democratic rights.
Canberra is about to pass legislation that will end years of autonomy for Norfolk, but large numbers on the island say they have not had a say.
The director of Massey University's Pasifika Centre, Malakai Koloamatangi, told Don Wiseman it is a legitimate argument.
MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: I think they do, I mean the best approach when dealing with another nation, although of course it's part of the Commonwealth, part of Australia, but Norfolk Island is not mainland Australia, it has had its own cultural history, traditional practices and so on. So the best approach when dealing with a separate entity or separate people as it were, is to go about in a transparent and consultative way. It sounds like the Australian government hasn't done that in this case. So I think the people in Norfolk Island, I think they have a case.
DON WISEMAN: I know there have been some murmurings on Norfolk Island of approaching the United Nations over it all?
MK: I can think of other places, I can think of places in the Pacific where these sorts of issues have been taken to the United Nations, and of course they're free to do that. But most of the time the UN encourages the actors to sort the things out by themselves. I'm thinking here for example of Tokelau before the last referendum when Helen Clark was still Prime Minister of New Zealand, of course and also West Papua when it because of the Indonesian alleged atrocities. So of course you're free to do that but whether that will do any good or not I'm not sure. I'm sure the UN would respect both Australia's and Norfolk Island's right to deal with this by themselves.
DW: Norfolk Island is a very unusual case in that it actually had a degree of autonomy from as long ago as I think 1856 when the first Pitcairners were settled there, and I'm sure the reason for the British government doing that was because they were from Pitcairn and they weren't about to be ruled out of Sydney or wherever.
MK: Right, right. I mean the Pitcairn Islanders of course are technically British citizens and the fact they did settle on Norfolk has complicated things a little. And so I mean that part of Norfolk Island's history is also very important, not only to them but also to Australia and to the UK. So I mean I think what has happened is that Norfolk Islanders have been given this degree of self governance as it were, and Australians of course argue that that is no longer viable in that Norfolk Island is not able to look after itself, falling tourists numbers and so on and so forth. And so it wants to minimise the problem by downgrading its status to a local council for Australians to help Norfolk Islands save themselves from their problems. It's an interesting argument, because one can also make that argument for some of the other smaller Pacific Islands, for example like Niue, which has a probably a similar kind of, or maybe just a little bit less, population. And there has been some argument in the past that perhaps Niue ought to give up its free association with New Zealand for it to become actually a New Zealand territory, much in the way that Tokelau is. These are not new discussions, these are not new arguments, but I think in the case of Norfolk Island, there's an interesting case here, it could create some precedent for others to follow such as Cook Islands or Niue.
The island's government is currently preparing a referendum, asking the people if they believe they should have a right to determine their own political future.
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