Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and hear, hear to that. This evening I would like to take the opportunity to talk about Norfolk Island, an Australian external territory out in the Pacific Ocean. It is about eight kilometres by five kilometres in size, or around about 33 square kilometres, and has a population of approximately 1,800 people. The island was named by Captain Cook in 1774 after the then Duchess of Norfolk. In 1856, the British government agreed to relocate 193 descendants of the Bounty mutineers from Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island. A wonderful history ensued. There is not enough time tonight to go through the history of Norfolk Island, but I would love everybody to read about it because it is an absolutely excellent story.
Let us fast forward to 1979 when the Australian government of the day passed the Norfolk Island Act. It is in its 30th year, to be marked this August. The act established the Norfolk Island’s self-governing regime, including the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly. The assembly elects nine members, including a Chief Minister, a Speaker and ministers. The Norfolk Island government and administration conducts its elections and this government also raises taxes, imposes charges, has a public service that it administers, as well as administering health, immigration, customs, quarantine and other areas of responsibility.
Federally, those islanders who are eligible and who elect to vote in federal elections are enrolled in my electorate of Canberra, unless they show a connection to another electorate which they wish to maintain a connection with. That makes me the federal representative of a number of Norfolk Island residents. That is a role which I value highly and recognise and exercise appropriately. I have also been a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories since my election in 1996. Through that time, the committee has conducted a number of inquiries on different aspects of Norfolk Island including, amongst others, health, communications, governance and financial matters. Through this work, and over these years, I have had the privilege of learning a lot about the community and the people of Norfolk Island and have seen how valuable and unique both the island and its community are. It is a wonderfully beautiful place. It relies very heavily on tourists taking their holidays there. Believe me, that is a relaxing and a rewarding thing to do and I encourage it.
It has become clear over the years, however, that Norfolk Island, with a population so small and being so remote, also faces its challenges. Indeed, with the global financial crisis, those challenges are becoming more and more evident. Considering the work of the committee inquiries and, more recently, considerations arising out of the GFC, it has become evident that some reforms must be considered for Norfolk Island to ensure its security and its future. I was very pleased, therefore, when former Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Debus, announced in late May the details of a package of reforms approved by the cabinet for Norfolk Island. I would like to quote in part from an open letter to Norfolk Island that Minister Debus released at the time. He said, amongst other things:
These reforms are designed to make Norfolk Island governance arrangements more consistent with those found in other Australian territories.
He said the new arrangements will:
- Provide access to the Commonwealth Ombudsman to review Norfolk Island Government decisions.
- Provide residents with access to Norfolk Island Government records under Commonwealth freedom of information laws.
- Protect the privacy of residents under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner for records held by the Norfolk Island Administration.
- Allow residents to appeal to the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal against a range of decisions made by the Norfolk Island Government and the Administration.
- Implement a framework for public financial management and reporting more closely aligned to the framework used by the Commonwealth including allowing the Commonwealth Auditor General to conduct audits of the Administration’s financial statements.
- Establish benchmark standards of conduct for Members of the Assembly consistent to those that apply in the States and the Commonwealth.
Minister Debus also made a note of commenting on the assistance provided by the Norfolk Island Chief Minister, Andre Knobbs, and members of the government in getting that package together.
I have the privilege of knowing many people on the island and, while some residents may be reluctant to accept change, particularly change instigated from here, I believe the growing number of residents wanting these changes and more cannot be ignored and deserve to be heard. With them, I am looking forward to the very timely and effective implementation of this first stage of reforms for Norfolk Island and, with consideration and consultation with the island residents, further reforms to ensure a very secure and very firm future for Norfolk Island.