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Norfolk Island and the Return of Colonialsim.

Back to Square One?? (“The more things change, the more they stay the same”?)

The decisions in recent days to dismiss and replace our Elected Councillors with an Administrator, and the simultaneous release of the Commission of Inquiry report laying the blame for the Council’s perilous budget position and the Island’s smashed economy on our Councillors, would have come as both a surprise and a shock! Conversely however, there are many who-held the view that this situation was predictable.

When one reflects upon the past, it seems obvious that the Commonwealth was never at all happy with Norfolk Island people ‘governing’ themselves. And while it has taken much longer than initially perceived, the Federal Ministers and Bureaucrats have finally attained their objective to put an end to Norfolk’s autonomy (and democracy!)

Those who might scoff at this very assertion, should first acquaint themselves with all the political antics as far back as the 1960’s (as a starter) leading first to the new 1960 Council Ordinance foisted upon the Council. This was another serious attempt to remove any last semblance of the Norfolk people’s limited authority. The Council publicly rejected it!

Not to be deterred, the ‘Master Plan was filed away, only to reappear as the lead submission to the 1975/6 Royal Commission, as the Cwth;s ‘blueprint for change’. That is, the planned removal of all autonomy and to fully integrate Norfolk into Canberra, A.C.T. By virtue of a well-coordinated ‘fight’ by the majority of locals, and the last-minute empathy of the then Minister for Home Affairs (Ellicott), victory over integration was achieved!

Despite eventually gaining Cabinet approval, and a narrow win in Parliament, the seeds of discontent and derision in the Federal bureaucracy and in the minds of many MPs, remained ‘alive’ and continued to flourish over succeeding years.

At the risk of being accused of supporting “conspiracy theory” a large number of locals continued to believe then, and now, that the gradual usurping of Norfolk’s powers and authority had commenced long before the ink had dried on the Norfolk Island Act 1979 – which was to have been Norfolk’s new parliamentary-approved authority!

It is not surprising therefore that among a wide cross-section of the people of Norfolk Island there remains an ever-present level of disquiet, and a high level of mistrust, of the perceived intentions of Australian Government; the Ministers with responsibility for Norfolk Island; and the Federal bureaucracy in particular.

This situation, settled momentarily as a result of Norfolk being granted a “form of self-government” following the commencement of the Norfolk Island Act 1979, arose again as the ‘deception’ became more obvious, simmering through to 2015 when Norfolk was unceremoniously stripped of its Parliament and Government.

Since the ‘takeover’ in 2015 and the transitioning of governance arrangements up to the present, the level of disquiet and mistrust which initially ‘waxed and waned’, has gradually increased in more recent times!

The bureaucrats seem to have been given almost ‘free reign’ to enforce or have enforced whatever changes they wish to impose upon the people of Norfolk Island - such changes covered by that ‘blueprint of governance’ that was likely developed 50+ years ago??

So as to end the ‘doubters’ view that the above assertion is simply nonsense, a lengthy but not exhaustive catalogue of forced; coerced; & non-consulted changes extracted from Public Records, appears below. But, before getting to that, a reasonable question -

Why has Australia been SO interested in seeking, and determined to act, as if had ownership of Norfolk Island?

(The records clearly show that Norfolk was not annexed to Australia as was expected!)

The answer to the question could be any one of a number of things, or a combination of some. To many it seems that the lure of untold riches from the 200 mile EEZ around Norfolk, supported by the recent ‘edict’ of the World Bank urging nations to secure at any cost their natural resources, is perhaps one obvious ‘attraction’?.

Or, is all about the strategic defence importance of Norfolk Island in a regional sense, and thus the need to have complete control of the Island?

Whatever it is/was, it just required a ‘trigger point’ to then simply abolish the present governance arrangements to finally set the re-colonisation process back ‘in train’, thus regaining what they believed to be, their right to unfettered control of the territory.

The unravelling of the Island’s autonomy has been described as “quietly relentless”, and it is thus little wonder that anxiety and mistrust became such prevalent thoughts among many ?

The following chronicles some of the reasons for this disquiet and mistrust:

(A collection of documented inconvenient truths, and misguided decision-making, etc.)

  • NO CONSULTATION occurred in the period 1901 – 1914 – from the start of the process of forming the Australian Federation through to the ‘creation’ and implementation of the Norfolk Island Act 1913 – absolutely NO CONSULTATION.

  • In the mistaken belief that Norfolk Island had been annexed to the Commonwealth in 1913/14, Colonial rule re-commenced in earnest.

  • Colonial rule continued by both British & Australian authority for next 80+ years

  • A Royal Commission in 1926, (called as a result of ‘people power’ - many letters to the Governor) which, among other matters, caused the dismissal of the Administrator, whose actions had been scorned by the community.

  • Legislation from the UK Parliament, and Orders-in-Council covering matters pertaining to Norfolk Island were still being enacted and effected as late as 1936, despite the Commonwealth’s assertions that the absolute power to legislate rested with them, from 1914 onwards?

  • In 1936 Australia imposed total press censorship on Norfolk newspapers and printers, to prevent criticism of its administration. The ban was lifted in 1964!!

  • Soon afterwards, the Norfolk Island language (“Nor’fuk”) was banned from the Central School.

  • Failure to list Norfolk Island as a non-self-governing territory in 1946, when Papua, Nauru, and Cocos-Keeling Islands (and Pitcairn!) were so listed.

  • Repeated failure to list Norfolk Island as a non-self-governing territory with the United Nations (UN) occurred again in 1960, and again in the 1970’s!

  • Deliberate action by Commonwealth of Australia “toavoid UN scrutiny” – is a direct quote from a Senior Departmental Officer to the 1975-76 Royal Commission!

  • In 1948, Norfolk Islanders, without any consultation, had their British Passports nullified in favour of being issued Australian Passports, despite most never having even been to Australia!

  • In 1955, the Chamber of Commerce appealed in writing to the South Pacific Commission seeking support for a Democratic Constitution for better representation, but this too was opposed by Australia.

  • In 1960, the then Norfolk Island Council formally rejected the amended Norfolk Island Council Ordinance 1960 –because, the unreasonable Power of Veto given to the Administrator, was considered untenable.

  • The skittling of Norfolk Island’s Register of Offshore Companies in 1971 (the then largest revenue earner for the Administration of NI), when other remedies to protect Australia’s Tax Revenue were available to the Federal Government.

  • Deception re the purpose of the “Over-the-horizon Radar monitoring” experiment from a sophisticated (American Military) Tracking Station near Ball Bay, in the late 1960’s. “Tell them it is to do with radio frequency exploration”, whilst causing Norfolk Island to become a potential ‘target’.

  • In 1975/76, a ‘Contrived’ (?) Royal Commission Report recommended Norfolk’s integration into the electorate of Canberra in the A.C.T. and with ALL Australian laws extended to Norfolk Island.

  • Secretary of Dept of Special Minister of State in evidence to this Royal Commission, admitted that, “...the reason Norfolk Island was in 1972 attached to the Dept of the Capital Territory instead of Science and External Territories along with Cocos & Christmas Islands, was to deliberately avoid United Nations scrutiny”.

  • The Australian Parliament’s 1978 Policy Position for Norfolk Island was accepted by Council and the people. (See attached outline & Cabinet Minutes)).

  • However, the (Federal) bureaucratic ‘clawback’ of key components of the 1978 Policy agreement, were already in the planning, even before the N.I. Bill was finally drafted!

  • A defiant last-ditch protest against these ‘clawbacks’ in the N. I. Bill 1978, ( protest from the Public Gallery of Parliament House in Canberra) failed, even after having support by the Opposition to Government, led by Innes MP. (See Hansard 1979)

  • The ‘kill-switch’ clause (Sec.23) added to the draft of Norfolk Island Bill by Federal bureaucracy, allowing the Commonwealth the power to over-ride anything!

  • The use of the ‘Kill Switch’ in 1983 caused serious disdain, expressed in a Motion raised in our Legislative Assembly – “It is with deep regret that this House records the death of democracy. Democracy born on Norfolk in 1856. It had a ‘child’ in 1979 (Norfolk Island Act). From birth there has always been a “festering sore” which became a cancerous growth with the appointment of Tom Uren as Minister for Norfolk Island. This cancerous growth become terminal in April 1983. Please stand in silence in remembrance of democracy” (Hansard 20/4/83 - P. 1846) Motion passed

  • Commonwealth’s failure to release the promised, and fundamentally important Economic Feasibility Study (Professor Gates), before the commencement of N.I. Act 1979, despite the completion of the Study, and the expressed favourable outcomes by Prof.Gates. (Norfolk was “left up the creek without a financial paddle”!!!)

  • Reneging of certain agreed components by the Commonwealth – 5yearly review, etc.; and failure to deliver as promised, the initial and vital “Economic Feasibility Study”;

  • The 1978 policy espousing that Norfolk was NOT required to be governed by the same laws etc that apply in Australia”, was subsequently, without ANY consultation, replaced with a series of changes leading to the present policy position, that “all Australians living on Norfolk are entitled to the same rights and benefits as those applying to Australians in Australia”.

  • The on-costs to the NIG arising from this policy shift, coupled with all the other destabilising ‘moves’ by federal bureaucrats, are incalculable, but have been severe!

  • In 1979 the Commonwealth’s forced change to Norfolk’s long-standing, ‘first-past-the-Post’ Electoral System to the Hare-Clark Proportional Representation model {deliberately designed to permit representation by minority groups!), was against the overwhelming wishes of the people at Referendum - in 1979.

  • Further protest, and a further rejection by Referendum in 1981, caused the inappropriate Illinois Electoral System of preferential voting to be foisted upon the people, after the Commonwealth again ignored the overwhelming referendum!

  • The Commonwealth in 1979 claimed the 200-mile EEZ “as part of the Australian fishing zone” in contradiction to Ellicott’s edict that Norfolk should support itself “from its own resources”, and, in contravention of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights! Zero proceeds from the EEZ flows into Norfolk coffers!!

  • Norfolk’s involvement with South Pacific Commission was scuttled in 1980

  • Loss of key, high-level contact in Department of Territories (Norfolk Division) when the super-departments were created in the late 1980’s. The very effective top-down decision-taking process was forever lost. (See summary of some major impacts – Airport, Australia Post; Aust Mint; Medicare/Medivacs; Cwth Legislation)

  • No 5-yearly reviews by the Cwth as required in the N.I. Act 1979 (Preamble), such reviews that had both performance and departmental nurturing as its function.

  • The Vice-Regal role of the Administrator of Norfolk Island became politicised in 1989 – Political ‘hacks’ and some unwanted senior bureaucrats replaced mainly retired but eminent Military personnel.

  • Contrary to the Recommendation of the Royal Commission, AND the wishes of the people of Norfolk to have a regulated Air Service, it was deregulated in 1988 without due notice or consultation, putting at risk the Island’s Tourism industry

  • Sudden withdrawal of Medicare with just 8-days notice of its cessation (received 23/12/1988), despite ongoing mutually-desirable negotiations at the behest of the Federal Minister for Health for a reciprocal health arrangement that had been agreed to by both governments! (NIG would provide free Health Care to visitors from Australia, and Norfolk residents would continue to access Medicare. Any shortfall arising from annual reviews was to have been met by NIG.)

  • The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by NIG but was never signed as agreed, & subsequently rejected by Minister of Health, Canberra. This caused the urgent need to establish the Norfolk Island Healthcare Scheme.

  • The RAAF Medivac Service, which greatly assisted Norfolk Island, AND was also welcomed by the RAAF as a ‘live’ emergency exercise as opposed to mock training exercises, was suddenly withdrawn without any explanation!

  • The tax-free status of Norfolk Island contributions to Australian Superannuation Schemes (encouraged by the Commonwealth from the outset!) were abruptly withdrawn in 1987 – no prior consultation nor explanation!

  • As an important part of the Ellicott/Cabinet 1978 Policy, No Federal laws were to extend to Norfolk Island unless expressly said to do so, and then only after adequate consultation with NIG” – this agreement too was conveniently ignored by the Department of Territories!

  • The ratio of the extension of Federal legislation to Norfolk Island increased from 1:92 in 1979, to 1:14 by end of first decade of self government, adding enormous pressure to Norfolk’s Public Service human and financial resources!

  • Norfolk Post ‘chiselled’ out of $1 million plus in Postal Service Fees etc., by Australia Post (the Universal Postal Union’s differential payment system!) and NO assistance was given by Department of Territories to help recover funds, after Australia Post said ‘NO’ to the repayment!!

  • In 1991, the Federal Minister announced that Norfolk was to be incorporated into the Federal electorate of Canberra, with the Federal Member for Canberra representing the Island. A referendum on this question resulted in an overwhelmingly 82% rejection of the proposal. This referendum result was ignored by Canberra.

  • In 1992 the Wettenhall/Grundy Report refuted the Federal bureaucrat’s assertion that there was “a community of interest” between Norfolk Island and the electorate of Canberra.

  • Accrual Accounting practises were forced upon the Norfolk ‘fiscus’, despite sound reasons NOT to do so. 150+ years of simple and understood-by-all ‘Cash Accounting’ practice had served the island well. The consequences of this change have been serious–limited understanding of accrued balances causing both uncertain and sometimes, ill-fated expenditure decisions? (Our ‘outside’ Officials won’t or don’t wish to understand the implications of this, but most local readers will.)

  • Attempts to diversify and develop new industries, and new Revenue Streams as recommended in 1997 by the Commonwealth Grants Commission – (Chapter 4), were thwarted by the bureaucrats. E.g. Offshore Finance Centre activities, (despite early assistance by Treasury); expanded Offshore Gaming; an on-line University; Medicinal Cannabis; Coinage; Fibre-Optic connectivity; etc., etc.

  • Access to tech guidance from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association –(CPA’s Tech Services Division) in the development of new industries, denied by the Cwth.

  • Unwillingness to assist with the establishment of a (lucrative) second Australian Shipping Register on Norfolk, despite recommendations emanating directly from the Australian Shippers Council to do so!

  • The commencement of a long series of Federal Parliamentary Committee inquiries from the late 1980’s onwards, seriously taxed resources of Norfolk defending the now obvious ‘contrived’ outcomes.

  • Neither the Cwth’s Parliamentary Committee process nor its motives are widely trusted or supported. Curiously, nor has the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on National Capital & External Territories (JSC) ever had much success with its many recommendations? (Perhaps because they were not well founded or unsustainable??)

  • Members of the JSC have deliberately mislead situations and outcomes, and conveniently, consistently, and deliberately, ignored the majority-view submissions made to it in favour of pandering to the minority, who favored the concept of full integration into mainstream Australia!

  • The JSC public ridicule of the Norfolk Government and the operation of its services without basis or facts. e.g., 3rd World standard Hospital; major corruption in the polity; poor roads; lack of important laws; etc.

  • The JSC process has been a headache without help. Both the process and outcomes have been costly and destabilising for the N. I. Government and the people.

  • Treasury (Australia) produced a “Tax Options for Norfolk Island” paper in 2004, with six options identified, including a simple-to-operate & regulate Local Flat Tax option. NO discussion with the people of NI, yet one option was already chosen by federal bureaucrats, despite being assessed as ‘revenue-neutral’. The result would in turn create, arguably, the greatest ever financial and resource impact upon household finances and businesses on-island!

  • Forced amendment by the Cwth in 2004 to Norfolk’s Electoral Act which consciously disenfranchised non-Australian residents – no longer able to vote or to stand as candidates for Elections - despite a referendum overwhelmingly expressing the contrary, that the status quo SHOULD remain! This action has caused some obviously intended serious ‘bias’ in the make-up of Norfolk’s Electoral Roll?.

  • The Australian Human Rights Commissioner found this forced disenfranchisement of non-Australians abhorrent, but their report was ALSO ignored by the Cwth!!

  • An additional forced change to the Electoral Act (in 2004) was designed to dilute the % of Norfolk Islanders on the Electoral Roll, by allowing Temporary Entry Permit holders onto the Roll after only 6 months, instead of 5 years, as had been the case.

  • ‘Sabotage’ of the attempt to have the High Court in 2006 determine the correct constitutional relationship between Norfolk Island and Australia, just weeks prior to the formal Full Bench hearing. The pivotal question was struck from the writ at the behest of the Solicitor-General!

  • In 2006, despite 6 of 7 Judges in the High Court (Bennett v Commonwealth) determining that Norfolk Island was NOT part of Australia for some things, but part of Australia for others, the Commonwealth has continued to rely upon the Berwick v Grey (1976) decision that Norfolk remains part of Australia, and thus continues to unilaterally legislate defiantly. (The “Berwick” position was effectively overturned in 2006!!)

  • The important CIE Report (Centre for Independent Economics), commissioned in 2006 by the Cwth to ‘measure’ the impact of the extension of Australian legislation to Norfolk Island, was and remained withheld from NIG and the people. Despite FOI ruling it should be released, the Departments of PMC and DIRDC lodged an appeal against the FOI decision! Just WHAT did the Cwth want hidden from the NIG and people of Norfolk Island?

  • The Federal Government’s Territories Law Reform Bill of 2010 (which effectively ended any last vestige of self-government), was forced upon NIG in exchange for some urgently needed subsistence funding - some $3.8m. Was this extortion or blackmail, or what?? (It was most certainly a ‘means towards the end’?)

  • The ill-fated Norfolk Island “Roadmap”, a supposed ‘blueprint’ for economic recovery, was agreed and signed by both Governments in 2010, but did not have wide community support. The “Roadmap” failed to deliver any meaningful progress or economic recovery.!

  • A successful grant of funds to NIG for our Cascade Pier upgrade was withheld, then later leveraged by the Cwth in an attempt to force NIG to agree to the introduction of Land Rates and/or other Taxes

  • Administrator Pope endeavoured to influence the 2013 Election of Members to the Legislative Assembly, by promoting that, a vote against the “Roadmap” may well be a vote against (continued) Federal funding”an action that is/was a serious affront to the office of a Vice-Regal Representative, as well as to many Norfolk Island electors!

  • The then Administrator Hardgrave raised objections to the use of “God Save the Queen” as Norfolk’s anthem (especially at the 100th Anzac Anniversary services), seeking a restricted usage in favour of using “Advance Australia Fair” wherever possible. Resisted by the RSL and others in the strongest terms!

  • Administrator Hardgrave’s obfuscation, untruthful conclusions, and misleading recommendations arising from a series of well-attended Public Meetings about governance matters, etc. (See Meeting Notes etc)

  • The questionable ‘drawing of conclusions’ by the JSC and other inquiries or commissioned studies about governance matters etc., when, generally speaking, only the minority of the residents have had their views heard!

  • The ‘engineering’ of the outcome and recommendations of the final JSC Inquiry, to which the NIG was denied either input OR a right of redress, was an appalling act of colonialism!

  • Lack of adequate consultation over major issues affecting all residents.

  • No willingness to ‘poll’ the ‘silent majority to ascertain where their views lay about recommended changes to Norfolk’s polity, and other matters.

  • Norfolk Island’s Referendum Act 1964, was unceremoniously repealed!

  • The all-important PREAMBLE to the Norfolk Island Act 1979, was removed!

  • The Commonwealth’s main focus over the last two decades of their ‘interference’ and inquiry, has been towards the SYMPTOMS and NOT the CAUSE - of both the slowing of the economy, and in the effectiveness or otherwise of governance under the now restricted, Norfolk Island Act

  • The sheer on-COSTS associated with additional service charges; loss of revenue options; and the uncertainties that arose as a result of the above changes; have had a significant impact on Norfolk Island Budgets in recent years!

Most of the more recent forced changes and the impacts arising therefrom over the last decade, have NOT been included in this paper, as they will be well known; understood; and still in the memory of most.

As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this paper is to hopefully provide some context to the long and lingering disquiet and mistrust of actions of the Commonwealth in relation to governance matters, much of which had its genesis many, many years back!

Despite the above, and the criticisms contained in this paper, it must be acknowledged that some significant Commonwealth contributions have been made by way of assistance to Norfolk Island’s general finances, additional Services, and infrastructure upgrades, in particular.

However, it has to be said that this regrettably pales into much less significance when compared to what was taken from the polity by way of lost opportunities, property and rights, and the colonialist actions and attitudes that have emerged in recent years.

Another important fact that should be remembered is that, a lot of the Commonwealth’s infrastructure-upgrade assistance was being applied to the veryinfrastructure ‘inherited’ from the Commonwealth in 1979, and handed over to the Norfolk Island Government in a rather deplorable, rundown state! (One does not gift a house to family with broken windows; unhinged doors’ and flaking paint? It is handed over in good ‘nick’?)

In addition, there was a widespread expectation that from the commencement of self-government in 1979, that the Australian Government would be seen to nurture the development of Norfolk’s fledgling government, with 5-yearly reviews part of this objective, rather than just letting the Island polity drift along – especially without the Feasibility Study!

But no, this nurturing NEVER occurred, despite having agreed to do so!

It is now abundantly clear to many that, the Department NEVER really wanted S-G to work!

Instead, the above list illustrates the Commonwealth’s orchestrated and prolonged determination, and efforts, to ensure that the Cwth’s ‘experimental’ S-G model would in time, inevitably fail!

That the Norfolk Island self-government arrangement survived for so long without any serious or dire consequences, is a tribute to the resilience, resourcefulness, and determination to succeed, of the Norfolk people.

It is also acknowledged that despite best efforts, mistakes and some bad decisions were made over time by both Norfolk’s elected representatives and our Public Servants.

Somewhat incredulously, absolutely NO credit nor acknowledgement of NIG’s successful transition to, and the evolvement of self-government for some 36 years, has ever been forthcoming from either the Office of the Administrator, the bureaucracy, or the Ministry in the Australian political arena, despite the people of Norfolk Island having to endure and overcome sometimes overwhelming odds; interference; and sacrifices, to govern!

This in itself, tells part of the ‘story’?

Finally, it needs to be said that, since the loss of autonomy in 1896 right up to recent days when BOTH autonomy AND Democracy were taken from the people, ALL of the Models of Governance have been ‘constructed or crafted’ by the Brits or the Cwth (since 1914), and ALL have failed in one sense or another.

What has always been missing, has been the preparedness to listen (and adopt) more closely to some of the Norfolk People’s wise and significant input, and aspirations?


Geoff B.

17 December, 2021

*Printed in The Norfolk Islander - Letters To The Editor 18 December 2021


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