House debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Territories Law Reform Bill 2010

Second Reading

7:07 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | Hansard source

in reply—I thank the House for the opportunity to sum up the debate on the Territories Law Reform Bill 2010 and I would like to thank all members for their contributions to the debate. I had the opportunity to visit Norfolk Island 12 months ago whilst returning from a trade meeting. I met the local people, including some of the Norfolk Island administration. With its unique blend of cultural heritage and its beautiful environment, it really is a special place but it does face significant challenges with its small population—just like many regions in Australia—and that is what this bill is about helping to address.

The reforms proposed in this bill are required for the long-term financial sustainability of Norfolk Island, but they are also important to resolve some of the short-term issues that currently beset the island. Successive governments have considered these issues for some time. Since taking on the portfolio, I have had discussions recently with the Norfolk Island Chief Minister, the Hon. David Buffett, and his Minister for Finance, the Hon. Craig Anderson. I discussed the legislation by telephone with them on 1 November and we have been working cooperatively since to address the short-term issues that they face as well as setting the scene for assessing and approaching the long-term issues. Also, in Canberra next week I am meeting with the Chief Minister, where we will discuss face to face the short-term and the long-term issues.

It is positive that the Norfolk Island government have recognised that reform will be needed to ensure their viability over the short and the long term. The Chief Minister made a statement to the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island earlier this month in which he supported the reform measures proposed in this legislation. This statement affirms Norfolk Island’s commitment to reform and cements the fact that the bill should be passed in a timely manner without amendment. The majority of Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly members also supported the motion, including all four of its ministers.

Apart from the direct dealings with the government of Norfolk Island, the reforms contained in this bill also represent our commitment to improving the lives of Australian citizens living in regional and remote locations, and obviously those living on Norfolk Island. Accepting the Territories Law Reform Bill 2010 is an essential step forward in improving accountability and public confidence in the Norfolk Island government, and introducing a financial framework which will increase community confidence in the Norfolk Island government’s management of public money and the long-term sustainability of their economy. The bill does not seek to remove responsibility from the Norfolk Island government, which the shadow minister for territories has indicated is one of his concerns because it was raised previously by the Norfolk Island government. Rather it will increase their responsibility in the areas of governance reform and introduce a contemporary financial framework and administrative law requirements.

These provisions will extend those entitlements that apply here on the mainland to residents living on Norfolk Island. Australian citizens resident on Norfolk Island are entitled to the same level of accountability and transparency from their government that other citizens receive from their state and territory government. The shadow minister’s amendments, however, offer Australian citizens on Norfolk Island less transparency and less accountability, and will not increase public confidence in their administration. Further to this, the Norfolk Island administration has previously said it would legislate for these administrative law reforms but has continuously failed to do so. These reforms will not only give Norfolk Islanders a better understanding of the operation of their government but also improve the ability of Norfolk Islanders to participate in decision making concerning their future.

The need for Norfolk Island governance reform has been stated in numerous parliamentary reports and recommendations. The Australian parliament and the Norfolk Island government have long been aware of the need for the reforms contained in this bill. The reforms were announced by the Australian government in May 2009 and implement a number of recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories 2003 report entitled Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?: inquiry into governance on Norfolk Island.


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