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Hypocrisy of Australia lecturing the Solomons 

Norfolk Island here we come… Jon and Robyn Stanhope marry on May 6, 1972.

In a very personal column JON STANHOPE  writes: “We Australians should, as we grandstand about our commitment to our ‘Pacific Ocean family’, take a step back and have a hard and honest look at ourselves and our treatment of the most important member of that family.” 

I HAVE a long and close association with Norfolk Island and indeed all of Australia’s external territories. 

I first visited Norfolk Island 50 years ago with my wife Robyn, on our honeymoon. We were warmly welcomed and I clearly remember being greeted at the airport by a tourism officer who asked us where we were from and why we had chosen Norfolk Island for our honeymoon. 

We responded we were from Canberra and asked how he knew we were recently married. He explained that there were only two categories of tourist, at that time, namely the newly wed and the nearly dead. Robyn and I were both 21, so he assumed we were in the former category. 

Robyn has a much longer association with the island. Her great grandmother, many times removed, Rebecca Chippenham, a second fleet convict lived on Norfolk Island from 1794 to 1810. 

After returning to Canberra, I continued my studies at the ANU, on a part time basis, and joined the Commonwealth Public Service. One of the early positions I held, in the ’70s, was as a legal officer in the Territories Branch of the Department of Administrative Services. My responsibilities were mainly focused on administrative and governance issues involving Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands. 

Over the next decade my involvement with the external territories expanded to include Antarctica as well as Heard and the McDonald Islands. In the late ’80s I was appointed secretary of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and managed a major inquiry undertaken by the committee into the legal regimes of all seven of Australia’s external territories. I have enjoyed the good fortune of visiting each of the territories including Antarctica and Heard Island. 

On completion of that inquiry, I was appointed official secretary and deputy administrator of Norfolk Island. I also served, following my retirement after 10 years as Chief Minister of the ACT as administrator of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. 

In other words, over the last 50 years I have not only worked closely on issues relevant to the governance and administration of Australia’s territories, I have lived with and come to know and understand the lives of the proud Australian citizens who call these remote, largely forgotten and egregiously neglected external territories home. 

First and foremost among the failings of successive Australian governments in respect of the three inhabited external territories, Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, is the refusal to accord residents the most fundamental of all rights, namely the right to a say in and control over the administrative arrangements relevant to day-to-day life. Put bluntly these three territories, each of which has with justification been categorised as “embarrassing remnants of the British Empire”, are in many respects still treated by Australia, as they once were by Britain, as colonies. 

It is in this light that I have found the recent posturing and pontificating by both the government and opposition on the recently announced arrangements entered by the democratically elected government of the Solomon Islands with China so hypocritical. 

While I share the concerns about China and its possible motivations in establishing a presence in the Pacific, I do think Australia and we Australians should, as we grandstand about our commitment to our “Pacific Ocean family”, take a step back and have a hard and honest look at ourselves and our treatment of the most important member of that family. 

That is quite obviously Norfolk Island, an Australian territory that is, to our great shame, the only island community in the whole of the Pacific Ocean whose residents are denied a democratic say or role in the nature and delivery of state or municipal services.

Norfolk Island is, I believe, the only colony left in the Pacific. In similar vein, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, which were once part of the colony of Singapore and the Straits Settlements, are in all relevant respects, also colonies. 

A worrying possible explanation for Australia’s one-eyed, patronising big-brother response to the actions of the Solomon Islands’ government is, of course, that it simply reflects the way we view and treat the Australian residents of Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. That is as a people unfit and unable to think for or govern themselves.

Jon Stanhope was ACT chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly. Read more of his columns on citynews.com.au

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Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

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One Response to Hypocrisy of Australia lecturing the Solomons 

Tane Cottle says: May 6, 2022 at 6:50 am

Thank you Jon Stanhope. Life on Norfolk Island for most of the Pitcairn descendants is now a sad and mentally draining existence, we suffer due to a never ending government bloodless genocide. Propaganda is rife. And the department who’s in control blind to democracy. If it wasn’t for outside supporters like yourself educating more people of Australia about our concerns, hope would be gone, but we remain proud Norfolk Islanders who expect one day soon enough good people will stand to right this governments wrongs. Thaenks fe uklun.

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