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Should Norfolk Island be self governed?

By John Hargreaves - 2 March 2015 9

stock-norfolk-island-ballot-vote

The bun fight between the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly and the Commonwealth Government regarding governance of the island has been going on for decades.

The island has about 2000 permanent residents and they are Australian citizens. It has an interesting history dating back to 1856 when the bounty mutineers moved from Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island. Most of the islanders can trace their heritage back to Fletcher Christian.

The island is governed under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Norfolk Island Act (1979) which created the nine-member Legislative Assembly under the governance of an administrator.

The assembly has all the pomp and circumstance of the ACT’s Legislative Assembly, complete with a speaker. Compared to the ACT, which has one representative for every 13,000 voters, Norfolk Island’s assembly has one representative for every 222 residents.

The Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly’s speaker attends the Presiding Officers and Clerks Conference held annually around the Commonwealth. The Legislative Assembly also sends a delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Associations Annual Conferences.

The island has ageing infrastructure, poor roads and crumbling public buildings. The residents rely on the Australian mainland for major health services and don’t (at this stage) pay income tax. In short, they get the best of both worlds in that they keep their island integrity with the major costs borne by the Commonwealth government.

The largest expenditure that I am aware of was the renovation to the Kingston Pier which is the islands entry port. However, visitors to the island are still offloaded from the cruise ships to a lighter boat which ferries them to the pier. The harbour desperately needs a deeper harbour to accommodate tourist cruise ships if that industry is to survive.

The debate at the moment is whether the Commonwealth should abolish the legislative assembly, assume responsibility for all but minor administrative matters and appoint a small group to administer the island’s affairs.

Islanders see this as an attack on their sovereignty and the Oz bureaucrats see this as financially responsible. Perhaps they are both right.

The essential question for me is whether a community of 2000 justifies a self-governing system. It is a question of whether it is appropriate for a community this size to have sovereignty similar to the states and territories on the mainland, but with significantly limited ability to be self-sustaining.

To put the size into perspective, in 2011 Tuggeranong had a population of 86,900, Kambah was 15,450 and Wanniassa, my suburb, had 7,786.

Tuggeranong is not a self-governing entity even though it is bigger than most towns and cities in NSW who have municipal councils with governance powers. One of the significant reasons for this is that Tuggeranong with no significant industry other than support services for the public sector is not self-sustaining.

Much has been said in opposition to the self-governance of the ACT but most people here accept that we need to govern ourselves, that we should not have taxation without representation. Opponents of self-government suggest that we could be part of NSW to allow taxation with representation. The idea is abhorrent to me but you would expect that.

Perhaps that is the answer for Norfolk Island. Instead of being an island territory administered by bureaucrats in Canberra, it should be absorbed into either Queensland or New South Wales and be given a municipal council like Palerang Council.

This would mean that the state level services, health, education, policing major roads and infrastructure would be provided from that state and included in the grants commission calculations. National issues, defence, citizenship, immigration, taxation, etc would not change, except for income taxation and duty free statuses. The municipal functions would be the responsibility of the new Council and the costs recovered from the residents on a use pays basis, supplemented by the parent state, as in the case with councils in New South Wales and Queensland.

The island has a small tourist industry, small scale agriculture, no manufacturing, a small scale service industry and a tiny population. If it is to be sustained, major political and governance reforms are necessary. To do nothing is not an option.

I have friends who are in the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island and I respect them immensely but I do worry they may be administering a dying community and I fear the worst.

It should not be difficult to talk to all of the residents and lay out the consequences of the status quo and the benefits of change. I wonder though, if this change is being imposed on the Islanders and the discussion has only been one way.

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
Should Norfolk Island be self governed?
rubaiyat 12:51 pm 10 Mar 15

tooltime said :

Should Norfolk Island be self governed?

If what’s happened here is any guide, only if they want to pay more for less services than what they’re getting now…BTW, there’ll be a second hand light rail setup going cheap in a few years time – lets see if they go down that road.

Or strap on a few of the gasbags here and sail for fairer shores! 😉

tooltime 4:20 pm 05 Mar 15

Should Norfolk Island be self governed?

If what’s happened here is any guide, only if they want to pay more for less services than what they’re getting now…BTW, there’ll be a second hand light rail setup going cheap in a few years time – lets see if they go down that road.

Narcobear 9:13 am 03 Mar 15

let them legalise cannabis (it was proposed recently and cut down) and they will have a booming self sufficient economy.

Surely Australia can sacrifice a tiny teeny bit of territory to the libertarian ideal!

If at first you don’t secede, then try again!

Affirmative Action M 4:22 pm 02 Mar 15

“Most politicians don’t give a rats a*** about what is actually good for the people or region they are governing and lately even if they do care the impression is they don’t and they blame the people if we think differently “

That’s the truest thing I’ve ever read on Riot Act.

dungfungus 3:46 pm 02 Mar 15

rubaiyat said :

No representation without taxation! 🙂

They are just like everybody else, totally self obsessed and contradictory.

That wanted to toss the Commonwealth when they were doing well, now they are practically bankrupt they want handouts.

Pay tax like the rest of us, even if that turns out to not be much in practice, and then take on the same responsibilities as other Australians, not just the benefits.

dungfungus

May I suggest a combination Vatican Bank/Offshore Detention Centre/Interent Piracy Domain/ASIO HQ.

All run and paid for by the Chinese. They obviously have deep pockets and do everything better than we do!

And I thought lateral thinking was dead. What about a casino too (a real one with poker machines)?
Seriously though, the Chinese are increasing their influence in the Pacific which I don’t think is a bad thing.

rubaiyat 3:19 pm 02 Mar 15

No representation without taxation! 🙂

They are just like everybody else, totally self obsessed and contradictory.

That wanted to toss the Commonwealth when they were doing well, now they are practically bankrupt they want handouts.

Pay tax like the rest of us, even if that turns out to not be much in practice, and then take on the same responsibilities as other Australians, not just the benefits.

dungfungus

May I suggest a combination Vatican Bank/Offshore Detention Centre/Interent Piracy Domain/ASIO HQ.

All run and paid for by the Chinese. They obviously have deep pockets and do everything better than we do!

dungfungus 2:24 pm 02 Mar 15

The residents could negotiate with the Feds to set-up and run an offshore detention centre. It would be a good little earner and put them “on the map” for future visits by human rights advocates.

Mysteryman 2:04 pm 02 Mar 15

Frankly I don’t think it’s reasonable for them to be provided for by the Federal government if they aren’t paying taxes to it. I’m not sure what solution would be best, but if they want to continue to receive funding and infrastructure support from the Feds, they should cough up.

watto23 1:44 pm 02 Mar 15

I’ve read a little bit about this recently. I think the first thing that would need to happen is for the residents to start paying taxes and GST. I believe they are not opposed to this, but of course the cost to run the island probably far exceeds the amount of revenue that could be earned from taxes.

There could be a middle ground solution, but my low opinion of political parties working together for a common solution has been proven time after time in recent years. Most politicians don’t give a rats a*** about what is actually good for the people or region they are governing and lately even if they do care the impression is they don’t and they blame the people if we think differently.

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