PRIME Minister Tony Abbott is preparing to sack the Pope. According to sources close to both men, he will most likely return to his native land before the end of the year.
Sorry about that; just couldn’t resist the temptation. The Pope in question is about as far as you can get from the Vatican; I speak, of course, of Neil Pope, the administrator of Norfolk Island appointed by Labor’s Simon Crean in 2012. Canberra and the Island are abuzz with the rumour that his days are numbered as the Abbott Government takes a much tougher line on Norfolk’s future than previous administrations.
And about time, too.
Since publication of my horrific history of the island, “Dark Paradise” two months ago I have been inundated by a stream of emails and texts telling of the increasing desperation of the residents as the island descends into bankruptcy. And the message is supported by Kathy Marks whose 2008 book, “Paradise Lost”, lifted the lid on the incest and sexual oppression on Pitcairn among descendants of the Bounty mutineers. The Pitcairners all moved to Norfolk in 1856, but some later returned to the smaller island.
Ms Marks has just visited Norfolk and says: “The economy is in desperate straits. Every other business on the main street is for sale, along with perhaps 200 homes. The roads are ferociously potholed, a bone-jangling symbol of the nation’s decline.”
A “roadmap” to incorporate the island into the Australian commonwealth was signed by Crean and Norfolk’s Chief Minister David Buffett in 2011. For the first time, they would pay income tax and municipal rates in exchange for Medicare and other welfare payments. By 2015 the island would be fully incorporated into the Australian commonwealth. Most importantly, it would pave the way for investment in the island’s tourism industry. Buffett was then defeated by a Pitcairn voting bloc who elected the new Chief Minister, Lisle Snell, a local bus driver and Pitcairn descendant who opposed the roadmap.
Kathy Marks says: “The public service – overwhelmingly staffed by islanders – remains bloated, inefficient and according to numerous insiders, rife with nepotism, cronyism and worse.
“One retired public servant told me that during 38 years on the job, he never bought a piece of steel, nor any timber, cement or petrol, instead helping himself from public stores. ‘Everyone knows it’s happening, but no one’s prepared to do anything about it because they’ve all got their noses in the trough,’ he says.”
Neil Pope, a former Victorian State parliamentarian whose most notable qualification for the administrator’s role was his friendship with Crean, seemingly “went native” and dressed in 19th century costume to welcome the Pitcairners in their 2012 “Bounty Day” re-enactment of their 1856 arrival. Despite his best efforts, he seems to have been unable to keep Snell and his faction to the roadmap.
Canberra’s Senator Gary Humphries was a forceful member of the Parliamentary Committee overseeing the planned incorporation. Humphries has now retired, but his views are well known and well regarded by the Abbott Government.