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Why Norfolk Islanders are saying no to Canberra

Norfolk Island… how long does the Commonwealth intend to deny the people of Norfolk Island a say in the governance of their community?

“Territories Minister Kristy McBain advised that rates on Norfolk Island would only increase by 25 per cent. That’s correct ‘only’ 25 per cent. It is understood the increase in waste management charges is in the order of 200 per cent,” writes JON STANHOPE in despair at the treatment of disenfranchised Australians on the island. 

IN recent weeks a meeting of an overwhelming majority of land-owning residents of Norfolk Island, a non-self-governing territory of Australia, located in the South Pacific Ocean, resolved that they will not pay any increase in taxes and charges imposed on them by unelected agents of the Commonwealth Government until the government moves to restore their democratic rights.

Jon Stanhope.

In a recent press release designed presumably to placate residents the Minister for Territories, Kristy McBain, advised that rates would, on average, only increase by 25 per cent. That’s correct “only” 25 per cent. It is understood that the increase in waste management charges is in the order of 200 per cent.

It is impossible not to see in the stand taken by the Norfolk Islanders, in the main proud Australian citizens, reliance on the principle of “no taxation without representation”, which is identified with the American Revolution and which galvanised the American colonists to revolt against their colonial overlord at the time, namely England. 

King George III reacted to the audacity of the colonists by declaring war on them and despatching the cream of his army to America to teach them a lesson. It didn’t, however, go well and the rest is history.

Incidentally the first bloody engagement of the Revolution, the Boston Massacre, occurred in 1770 just as James Cook stumbled upon Norfolk Island.

I don’t doubt that there will be many who will scoff at the suggestion that there is any similarity between the circumstances that led to the American Revolution and the situation currently playing out on Norfolk Island. Clearly, I believe the comparison, while perhaps a little skinny, is nevertheless moot. 

The latest round of proposed increases in taxes and charges, particularly land-based rates and waste management fees have been imposed by unelected officials appointed by the Commonwealth Government. Perhaps most egregiously the increase in rates on land have a disproportionate impact on residents of Pitcairn descent who are being forced, because they can’t afford the rates, to sell parcels of the lands they own and which have been central to their place on Norfolk Island and their customs since they first settled there almost 200 years ago, when the land was granted to them.

For those not familiar with the governance arrangements that apply on Norfolk Island the following is a short-potted history. 

Norfolk Island is, like the ACT, a territory of Australia and achieved self-government in 1979, a decade ahead of the ACT. Self-government was delivered by a Liberal government with bi-partisan support. 

Norfolk Island’s self-governing status was repealed, in 2015, under a Liberal government with tri-partisan support. Yes, that’s correct, even the Greens gave Norfolk Islanders the finger. I understand that the push to repeal self-government was driven by the Norfolk Island Branch of the Labor Party among others and facilitated by Labor members of parliament. It is as instructive as it is depressing to read the (handful) of speeches delivered in support of the bill to overturn Norfolk Island self-government and to return the island to what is, in effect, colonial status.

What is striking about the parliamentary debate on the bill to dissolve self-government is the absence of any apparent concern from a single member of the federal parliament about the implications or consequences of annulling the democratic rights of an entire community, most strikingly in relation to all state-type issues including health and education. 

It intrigues me that no consideration was given by the parliament to a consideration of other models of governance, such as that which is employed on say Niue, that might have been applied as a temporary measure. 

Similarly, why did the Commonwealth not legislate for the establishment, again as an interim measure pending a restoration of democracy on Norfolk Island, of an elected Advisory Council. 

I am also intrigued to know for how long the Commonwealth intends to deny the people of Norfolk Island a say in the governance of their community and the same democratic rights enjoyed by the residents of, let’s say, Canberra. Is it, for example, the Commonwealth’s intention that the repeal of self-government be permanent?

Turning to the democratic rights of we Canberrans I was very pleased by the passion shown in an article by my local member, Ms Alicia Payne, and published in “CityNews” (July 19), in which she asserts her determination to protect, almost to the death it seemed to me, my democratic rights and those of all territorians. I should say, with respect, that I agree with everything that Alicia has to say on the matter.

This is some of what Alicia said: “It’s hard to believe that in 2022 citizens of territories are denied the same democratic rights as other Australians by the federal parliament.

“Whether in the Assembly or in federal parliament, for years your Labor representatives have been fighting to have your democratic rights restored.

“Personally, I can’t understand how any politician representing a territory could oppose their constituents having the same democratic rights as other Australians.

“We cannot consider ourselves inclusive or just if we deny Australians rights to democracy based on where they live.”

AMEN to that Alicia. I am sure you cannot but feel the same about the citizens of Australia’s three inhabited external territories and, therefore, when Senator David Pocock moves to introduce a bill to restore self-government to Norfolk Island, as I am sure he will, that it will have your full support as well as that of the ALP and the government.


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Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

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11 Responses to Why Norfolk Islanders are saying no to Canberra

Hugh says: July 20, 2022 at 4:56 pm

Geez Jon, I’m surprised to see you care so much about Norfolk Island, but when the Oaks Estate Progress Association sought your help and collaboration in 2018 to address the ACT Labor Govt’s two decades of neglect of Oaks Estate which is muuuuch closer to home and relevant to ACT residents, your only response was to say ‘I’m sorry to hear about [insert all the horrific things that I sought your help to address, like 54% public housing, 40% unemployment, failed rehab program, no ACTION bus, IV needles everywhere, violence in the street, firebombing, stolen cars being torched, no traffic calming despite hoons all the time, residents forgotten and ignored for decades…].

Robin Adams JP (Ms) says: July 20, 2022 at 7:42 pm

In 2020 Norfolk Island called on the Commonwealth to inquire into a more appropriate form of government for the non-self-governing territory of Norfolk Island that can achieve the majority support of the Norfolk Island people; and build a pathway to peace. The Norfolk Island people look forward to the return of democracy to their Island.

M. Christian says: July 20, 2022 at 7:50 pm

There would be great savings and improved outcomes for all concerned if the current inefficiencies and poorly-thought-out actions of Government were guided by the people who actually have to live through the catastrophic results.
Thank you Jon Stanhope for remembering Norfolk islanders exist, and have been stripped of ALL our democratic rights, not just on a single subject.

Tane Cottle says: July 20, 2022 at 8:12 pm

Thanks Jon Stanhope, I was off Island when Senator Pocock visited, but the below is what another well qualified resident offered him as support of his proposal. ( I believe the referendum was closer to 68%) I hope many others in the Parliament now get on board and start to do their own research. Truely thankful for your commitment to justice in ukluns demise. I’m with you in support of Senator Pococks reforms. Kind Regards Tane Cottle.
Printed with permission


The Senator asked the gathering what they saw as the way forward for Norfolk Island – this was my reply to that question.

There is only one way forward for Norfolk Island and that is for the Commonwealth Government to reinstate the limited self-government it established in 1979 in response to the Nimmo Royal Commission’s recommendations. Anything else would like trying to patch a wreck.

There was no suggestion that the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly was in any way corrupt. It went into debt because of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Norfolk Island did not benefit by the Rudd Government’s measures which kept the rest of Australia out of recession.

This was not the first time that Norfolk Island was not treated like the rest of Australia. In fact the various Australian Governments have never treated Norfolk Island like the remainder of the country.

When Norfolk Island was given limited self-government in 1979 by not extending the Income Tax Act to the Island the Federal Government saved itself millions, because it did not have to become responsible for funding a host of social services, medicare, subsidies to the school, etc. It would have not collected anything like those costs from the local population.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s Australia was going through a recession and the savings would have been welcome. Years later, when the Global Financial Crisis hit the Island the Assembly would not have gone into debt if they had not been responsible for funding all those services.

In the following years to 2015 the Commonwealth Government subsidised the Norfolk Island Assembly to the tune of some $6 to $7 millions per year. Chicken Feed.

Then in June 2015 the Federal Government legislated to terminate the life of the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly in the face of a lawful referendum of the voters of Norfolk Island held some months earlier, which by over 60% voted that it wanted to retain self-government.

It then established a Regional Council operating under inappropriate NSW legislation and made sure it could not be financially viable by removing the Norfolk Island GST as a source of income for it and not introducing the Australia wide GST.

So much for this Island being a part of Australia – as they repeatedly stated.

When the Regional Council inevitably became financially unviable the Feds removed the last vestiges of democratic government on Norfolk Island by sacking that body and installing a bunch of highly paid outsiders who now plan to raise taxes and fees completely out of any comparable increases being imposed on any other part of Australia.

The provisional reduction of the proposed fees is still many times higher that any increase in fees being imposed elsewhere.

Meanwhile the waste of funds being spent by the feds on a series of outside consultants to provide advice on a range of issues is stunning. Advice which is seldom implemented on initiatives that would truly benefit the Island.

The new Federal Government needs to return democracy to Norfolk Island in line with the petition before the United Nations – prepared by Geoffrey Robertson QC – asking for the Australian Government to honour its commitment to a UN Declaration to which it a signatory – to the effect that all Non-self-governing Territories should be given self-government.

Mtngry says: July 21, 2022 at 2:40 pm

Disenfranchised? yes. Australians… Not so much. Imagine what they could do with access to the income from the EEZ and a bit of democracy.

Christopher Emery says: July 21, 2022 at 4:31 pm

Do you still need to show your Australian Passport on arrival in Norfolk Island?

brett sanderson says: August 6, 2022 at 10:32 am

You can use your driver’s licence. You need either to leave Sydney or Brisbane airports.

Dennis says: August 11, 2022 at 5:11 am

How could you actually protect the EEZ from other parties without the Australian navy? It would stripped of its marine life in no time, let alone the fictitious resources the Norfolk Islanders have determined are there.

Brett Sanderson says: August 6, 2022 at 10:43 am

The Morrison government appointed Council Administrator has introduced waste management rates on vacant blocks of land in Norfolk Island. (Maybe for waste they potentially generate in the future?) The council keeps telling residents it is on the brink of financial collapse which only can be avoided by the imposition of higher rates and charges on an increasingly impoverished community. The federally driven experiment which was the abolishing of (limited) self-government in 2015 has been a social, environmental and economic disaster which now costs the taxpayer $200 million+ p.a. Isn’t federal fiscalism grand?

Dennis says: August 11, 2022 at 5:16 am

You seem to forget that in 2015 Norfolk Island was no longer a going concern. It was financially crippled and seeking funding through increasingly hair brained schemes. The loss of self government didn’t happen overnight and shouldn’t have come as a shock, except there was a massive sense of entitlement where residents seemed to think they could carry on as usual and any shortfall should be paid by the Australian taxpayer. Heaven forbid there be an expectation that they contribute to said taxes or assist in covering the costs of servicing the island they call home.


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