Norfolk's new regional council stymied: Snell
One of Norfolk Island's new regional councillors Lisle Snell says they are finding the new governance system unsatisfactory and it's putting stress on some of the island's residents.
One of Norfolk Island's new regional councillors says they are finding the new governance system unsatisfactory and it's putting stress on some of the island's residents.
It's a month since a regional council under New South Wales was brought in to run the island after Canberra shut down the island's parliament a year ago, removing Norfolk's autonomy.
Lisle Snell was the island's last chief minister under the old administration and he told Sally Round that councillors are stymied under the new regime.
LISLE SNELL: Well the regional council's run by the general manager and her group of managers for which the regional council had no input into selecting or appointing, so we're a little bit stymied there. The administrator still has a lot of powers under the Norfolk Island Amendment Act that amended all of the legislation to bring in the regional council. So the administrator has a lot of powers. The Norfolk Island laws which still apply, those from New South Wales which are applying, and we still of course have some responsibility from Canberra coming in as well. So, you know, laws from New South Wales, we don't have any say over whatsoever, we don't vote in New South Wales, we're going to be given a vote in Canberra, which is many hundreds of kilometres away. Really, it's a very, very unsatisfactory situation.
SALLY ROUND: And what issues have you been discussing in this last month since the change?
LS: We've been really looking at general policy issues of how we can really make the regional council work for the betterment of Norfolk Island. That's really what we're working through now. I think everyone wants it to work and the councillors want it to work, but it is going to be a very difficult time for all of us, and it's a difficult time for the island. People on Norfolk Island have been given virtually twelve months to adopt a system that applies in Australia which Australians have had all their lifetimes to adopt to it. We've have twelve months to adopt it -- I'm referring to income tax, I'm referring to changes in health, changes in pension systems, changes in legislation, governance issues and so on. It's a huge change for the people of Norfolk Island and some of them are very, very stressed about it, particularly the elderly and those who are out of work, or infirm, or can't get work. It's a struggle here, it really is a struggle.
SR: You talked in the past about job losses. What is the situation now with employment?
LS: At the moment there is still reasonable good employment in some areas; in some areas there isn't. If you're a very healthy young man and can turn your hand to general hard work you'll get a job doing lawns and working on the roads and, hopefully, with some of the contractors that are coming over to do the extension to the Cascade Jetty, you might get a job with them. But if you're somebody working in a shop or doing menial type work - well, not menial - but work in restaurants or bars or things like that, it can be very difficult because that industry is closing down a bit. It's becoming much slower.
SR: Ah, the job losses. Do you have any idea of numbers at this point?
LS: No at this point we don't have any number on the people who have lost jobs or haven't got jobs. I know there are some, particularly in the previous administration of Norfolk Island, there are very, very skilled people out there in office work, and typing, and clerical who have now been unable to get a job. The old office workers haven't been able to get a job.
SR: What happens to them? Do they get some unemployment benefit through the Australian state?
LS: Well in Australia they've got this scheme they call the 'New Start Allowance,' which really they can start you on a new job. But there are no jobs here for you to start in and to get the unemployment benefit is not that easy as well, particularly if you've got assets. They said, 'oh you've got so many assets you don't need assistance.' Well, some of the assets to them are not quickly convertible to cash.
SR: When we spoke to you a month ago also Mr Snell, you talked about three businesses closing on the first of July because they didn't want to be conducting their business because of the tax system. Have there been any more businesses closing? Or businesses opening?
LS: The only new businesses, really, that are opening; I think there's been one chocolate shop, you know good luck to them, but a lot of taxation offices are opening to assist people in their tax arrangements, but as for places closing there are some on the brink. I've spoken to a few shopkeepers and we're in a real downturn in tourism and I think some of them are contemplating what are they going to do next?
SR: Within the council, what plans, what ideas, have you got any momentum going to try and get things moving?
LS: Yes we have. We're looking at the budget issues - the budget for the period 2016/17 still shows a huge deficit. Personally I think it will be higher than any that the legislative assembly had and the system that we have here now precludes us from earning revenue like we did before, such as our GST - we had our own GST here but that's been abolished; Customs duty has been abolished; All the taxation that's raised on the island from income goes off the island, so we don't see that circulating; Certainly, they've taken over the hospital and the medical situation and pensions and they've taken over the expenses of running the school and the total expense of running the police force, even though the previous legislative assembly assisted there to 70 percent. But it's not equating. It appears the system here on the island now is going to cost more money than under the previous administration under the previous assembly.
SR: You've got a finite sum coming to you from Australia.
LS: Well none of that is guaranteed. It's only on application, on a grant system and it depends on how well you can word you application for assistance. None of it is guaranteed that they will fund anything except at the moment it's guaranteed that they're going to spend some money on the roads, and that will probably dry up within the next six months, and they're certainly going to be spending a lot of money on improving the Cascade Jetty, which is one of their facilities on the island anyway, but it's certainly a facility that serves Norfolk Island.
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