“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.
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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