Norfolk Island

A Brief History

Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific, with its closest neighbour New Caledonia situated 800km north. The island sits between Australia, 1400km east of Brisbane, and New Zealand, 1120km North West of Auckland. An island of only 5km by 8km (34km2 ) Norfolk has a population of 1,795 ordinary residents (Norfolk Island Administration, 2011, p.35), a multicultural community consisting of the original Pitcairn Island descendants, Australian and New Zealand citizens, as well as other nations. Norfolk Island has a rich history, with four distinct settlements – an early Polynesian settlement, two convict settlements and the current Pitcairn settlement. In 1856, after the abandonment of the British penal settlement, Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s Order-In-Council declared that Norfolk Island was to become a distinct and separate colony for the Pitcairn Islanders, those descendants from the Mutineers of the HMS Bounty. The 194 Pitcairn people took control of Norfolk Island, which was now their homeland. A self-governing people, the Pitcairners brought with them from Pitcairn their 39 laws, their language, their culture and their traditions.

From 1856 the Pitcairn people governed Norfolk Island until 1896, with their own laws including women’s suffrage. In 1896 plans were made to connect the Australian continent to North America with an undersea cable, which would pass through Norfolk Island. The soon- to- be Australian federation would at the same time commence the process to transfer the Norfolk Island Colony from Britain to Australia. The colonisation process continued until 1914 when Australia took control of Norfolk Island against the wishes of the Norfolk Island people.

Through the early and mid 20th century the Norfolk Island people continued to fight for their sovereignty. Australia refused to abide by its international obligations to list Norfolk Island with the United Nations as a Non Self-Governing Territory in 1946. By the 1970s the fight had grown to fever pitch and Norfolk Island achieved a limited form of Self-Government in 1979. It was originally intended that self-government would be partly funded from the resources of the island’s EEZ, such as fishing and exploration licences.However, within weeks of the granting of self-government, Australia claimed those waters as her own. Over the years, many other obstacles were placed before the island’s attempts to be sustainable, but with careful management, the island paid its way and provided a good standard of living for its people.

After the Global Financial Crisis the Norfolk Island tax base was hit so hard that the island was forced to run a deficit budget and was required to seek  modest financial assistance from the Australian Government. So started the Road Map that was supposed to end with the island paying Australian Income Taxes and receiving Australian welfare, but with the island’s Self-Governance remaining and improving.

On May 8th 2015 the Island’s parliament called for a referendum which resulted in 68% of the electorate voting overwhelmingly in support of their “right to freely determine their political status, their economic, social and cultural development”.  Australia chose to ignore the outcome of that referendum and disregard the rights of the Norfolk Island People.

The Norfolk Island people have now had their democratically elected Parliament abolished since 17 June 2015 and are seeking to be inscribed on the United Nations List of Non Self-Governing Territories so that the community may have a say and be free to determine their political status, their economic, social and cultural development.