During an interview with Norfolk Island Radio, VL2NI on Friday 26 November, 2021 Administrator, Mr Eric Hutchinson made a number of incorrect comments and assertions relating to the recent actions of the Norfolk Island Council of Elders (CoE) and the Norfolk Island People for Democracy (NIPD) within the Old Military Barracks (OMB).
Due to the public nature of the Administrator’s comments and assertions, we are compelled to record that the publication of this letter is necessitated by a refusal of our community radio station, Norfolk Island Radio, to afford our organisations a reasonable and fair opportunity to respond on air to the comments and assertions made by the Administrator during that interview.
Given that we do not accept the correctness of anything that was said about our organisations, such a response should have been afforded in the interest of balanced and fair reporting and the public interest.
Contrary to what may have been conveyed through the interview, the actions taken by our respective groups within the OMB (notwithstanding the Commonwealth Government’s reaction to them) have always been lawful, reasonable and entirely uncontroversial given that we have only sought, in accordance with our individual and collective rights and with reasonable excuse, to protect our long-established customary rights of usage of the
To set the record straight in respect of our actions, and to provide the factual position at the OMB, we note:
Contrary to what may have been conveyed through the interview, the locks on the Court House have not been changed; nor have the operations of the Court been affected by any action/s taken by CoE nor NIPD.
The buildings within the OMB are a part of a collection of buildings in the Kingston Area subject to rights of Pitcairn Descendants and the Norf’k Peoples (both as individuals and as a collective) to customary occupation and usage of and connection with the Kingston Area. These rights extend beyond usage and predate any asserted right of the Commonwealth of Australia which, even if established cannot extinguish or diminish those prior rights. These rights, which must be legally respected, cannot be extinguished or materially diminished by any other occupation or usage, or any other act or omission.
Contrary to what may have been conveyed through the interview, the Crown Lands Act 1996 (NI) has no relevant application to the OMB. That fact is clear from the terms of the Act itself. Even if, for present purposes we assumed that the Act applied to the OMB (which it does not), it has no application to our members’ respective and collective positions and rights.
CoE and NIPD agree that the Court House (and indeed the whole Kingston Area) needs urgent maintenance and repair; and contrary to what may have been conveyed through the interview, have never resisted nor prevented access to the OMB for safety, maintenance or other legitimate reasons.
Contrary to what may have been conveyed through the interview, the fact that Kingston is a World Heritage area should not be used to diminish these rights, but substantiate them. The Norfolk Island Heritage Register, ‘Statement of Significance’ identifies, amongst other things, that:
‘Norfolk Island is first and foremost the home of its residents, who value KAVHA as a site of continuous and active use as a place of residence, of work and of recreation since the arrival at Kingston Pier in 1856 of the Pitcairn Islanders ….’
Further, the Schedule to the Commonwealth of Australia Special Gazette (No. S141) published in 2007 sets out, amongst other things, the Criterion to be met for the National Heritage List in relation to KAVHA. This includes a requirement that: ‘the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.’ To meet this Criterion the following Values are stated:
"KAVHA was the landing place of the Pitcairn Islanders in 1856. Their descendants today comprise nearly a third of Norfolk Island's population. They value KAVHA as a place of special significance because it has been continually and actively used as a place of residence, work, worship and recreation.
KAVHA is valued by the Norfolk Island residents for being a place of traditional and ongoing uses, including the continuity of a working waterfront at the Landing Pier; the centre of Norfolk Island administration; continuing religious worship at All Saints Church and the community's burial place at the cemetery; areas for recreation and sports; and as the cultural centre with cultural and social events, museums and archaeological sites."
The statements expressed within the Norfolk Island Heritage Register and the National Heritage List are reflected in the Universal List (UNESCO) and are critical elements of World Heritage Listing; and it is indisputable that without them the relevant World Heritage listing could not have been obtained.
Unfortunately, the recent conduct of Commonwealth representatives can only be objectively assessed as consistent with a view on their part that the Pitcairn Descendants and Norf’k Peoples have no rights of occupation, usage and connection in respect of the OMB or the Kingston area. That is a flawed view.
In an effort to avoid any doubt, CoE and NIPD provided the Commonwealth with written notice that any further action by them at OMB (or in Kingston) that is disrespectful of our rights; or is otherwise than in accordance with an agreed outcome or shared understanding, will be unauthorised by law, whether under the Crown Lands Act 1996 (NI) or otherwise.
We respectfully request that the Administrator retract his erroneous comments; and that he accepts that the actions of our respective associations (however inconvenient they may be to the Commonwealth’s plans for Kingston) are motivated solely by an unwavering commitment to upholding the expressed wishes and rights of the Pitcairn Descendants and Norf’k Peoples.
Finally, and to provide greater context to the matters described above; we do accept that the Commonwealth Government has an important role to play both in Kingston and on Norfolk Island more generally. And, while the matters that currently divide Norfolk Island and the Commonwealth Government are significant in nature, they are not insurmountable. Indeed, we believe they can be easily resolved through meaningful and respectful dialogue; and when resolved would achieve an outcome that is in the best interests of both Australia and Norfolk Island.
Although the Commonwealth Government has resisted such discussions to date, we remain willing and open to play our part should its position change.
Norfolk Island Council of Elders
Norfolk Island People for Democracy