Understanding Norfolk Island's Democratic Deficit

Unlike 99.99985% of Australian citizens whose rights to a representative parliamentary democracy are preserved under the Australian Constitution, the Norfolk Island People are subject to whatever governance arrangements the Commonwealth Parliament deems ‘fit’ for Norfolk Island.

In 2015 the Parliament used its authority to impose new undemocratic governance arrangements on Norfolk Island and effectively grant the majority of the powers normally vested in a Parliament ‘of the People’ to a single Federal Minister and a single unelected public servant. Naturally, the Norfolk Island People continue to protest this situation in favour of a more appropriate, more democratic governance model for Norfolk Island.

Australia’s system of government

Australia is a representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy. Australia’s Parliamentary Education Office in its ‘Fact Sheet on the Australian system of government’ describes the ‘benefits of democracy’ as follows:

  • There are ways to resolve different views and conflicts peacefully.

  • Respect for human dignity.

  • The freedom to act, speak and think freely (as long as it does not stop others doing the same)

  • Equality before the law.

  • Good government that is efficient, transparent, responsive and accountable to citizens.

  • Ability to hold elected representatives accountable’.

Norfolk Island does not have a democratic system of government

For 99.99985% of Australian citizens, the right to a representative parliamentary democracy is preserved under the Australian Constitution. This is not the case for the Norfolk Island People. Rather the Australian Constitution gives the Commonwealth Parliament the power to ‘make laws for the government of [Norfolk Island]’ and ‘allow the representation of [Norfolk Island] in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit’.

In 1979 the Commonwealth Parliament thought it ‘fit’ to grant the Norfolk Island People their own representative parliamentary democracy established by the Norfolk Island Act 1979 (Cth).

However, in 2015 the Commonwealth Parliament abolished the Island’s democratically elected Parliament by passing the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015 (Cth) (the 2015 Act).

The 2015 Act imposed new governance arrangements on Norfolk Island which placed the Norfolk Island People at a distinct democratic deficit when compared with or measured against the democracy enjoyed by most Australians. The following is a brief analysis of the undemocratic elements of the Island’s newly applied governance arrangements.

The Federal Minister

Under the 2015 Act a single Federal Minister has effectively been granted the power to make and apply Commonwealth legislation (Ordinances) to Norfolk Island. The Federal Minister does not require the consent of the Norfolk Island People and is not required to consult the Norfolk Island community before making laws for Norfolk Island and there is no requirement that the Commonwealth Parliament debate the merits (or lack thereof) of the law/s being applied.