Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific, with its closest neighbour New Caledonia situated 800km north. The island sits between New Zealand, 1120km North West of Auckland, and Australia, 1400km east of Brisbane. 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, New Zealand and Australian citizens, as well as other nations like Fiji, America, and Russia. 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 their 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 in 2008, 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, but with the island’s Self-Governance remaining and improving.
In 2014, Gary Hardgrave, the selected Australian Administrator of Norfolk Island, misled the Australian Parliament when he stated that “change of governance arrangements is supported by a substantial majority of Norfolk Island residents”. Although some local residents expressed their wishes for economic growth and improved roads (for instance), they were clear that any arrangements needed to be of a collaborative nature.
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, abolished the local government, and started its current taxation and governance arrangements. An example of the wastage and ludicrous nature of this arrangement is the perfect example of the footpath saga. Should people notice the concrete pathway running from the school down Queen Elizabeth Avenue, this was constructed by the community and cost approximately $30K to construct. The continuation of the pathway from Channers corner into town was constructed by the Australian government, cost approximately $500,000.00 (yes, that’s half a million dollars), is gravel and requires constant maintenance. This is a small example of how ridiculous and wasteful it is to continue governing Norfolk Island by Australian departments, and is testament to the temporary nature as the situation as it stands continues to be untenable.
In June 2015, the Australian government passes the “Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015”, which unilaterally set aside the democratically elected government in favour of Appointed Dependency Governance, in contravention of the democratically expressed will of the people of Norfolk Island.
On 25 April 2016 Mr Geoffrey Robertson QC, lodged a Petition with the United Nations in New York on behalf of the people of Norfolk Island. The Petition which is addressed to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation, requests that Norfolk Island be recognised and listed as a non-self-governing territory.
In May 2016, it was confirmed that Norfolk Island is a Non-Self-Governing Territory within the meaning of Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, in aconfirmatory Joint Legal Opinion by Professor Vaughan Lowe QC (Emeritus Chichele Professor of Public International Law at Oxford University) and Dr Christopher Ward SC (expert in the field of international law (public and private) and a Senior Counsel for the State of New South Wales). This was a preliminary requirement for gaining listing at the United Nations.
Another preliminary requirement for gaining listing at the UN was a study into the ethnic and cultural distinctiveness of the Norfolk Island People by Emeritus Professor Peter Mulhausler, which confirmed that “the Norfolk Island People are distinct ethnically and/or culturally from the country administering it.”
During one of DIRDC’s briefings in 2018 to the then federal Minister, Sussan Ley, the Department of Infrastructure, Regional development and Cities (DIRDC), admitted that “The preamble was repealed from the NI Act by the Australian Government in 2015 as it was considered to be a necessary step for cultural inclusion, and disengagement of the Pitcairn stronghold and cultural exclusion that had previously occurred.” University of Wollongong Law Professor Dan Howard weighed in on the matter of the dissolution of elected government, arguing that: “Alarmingly, the amendments to the Norfolk Island Act (1979) also deleted all of the important Preamble to the Act that had acknowledged the distinct and close cultural connection of the Pitcairn descendants to Norfolk Island. This was a most serious development, purporting to obliterate all acknowledgement of Norfolk’s distinct culture by stroke of legislative pen.”
On the 8thof March 2018, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was lodged with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva.
Advisor and decolonization expert to the United Nations, Dr. Carlyle G. Corbin, publishes the ‘Assessment of self-governance sufficiency in conformity with internationally-recognised standards. Country: Norfolk Island’, in September 2018, concluding that“The prevailing arrangement which has been unilaterally imposed represents a denial of the right to self-determination of the peoples of Norfolk Island.”
On the 10thDecember 2018, Geoffrey Robertson QC was advised of registration of the case, with a copy of this communication being sent to Australia, requesting any reply to be made to the Human Rights Committee within six months. Australia has been roundly criticized before for its “chronic non-compliance”. With the six-month deadline being in mid-June of 2019, Australia’s response to the Human Rights Committee is long overdue.
While the Norfolk Island People for Democracy are continuing to pursue theinscription on the United Nations List of Non Self-Governing Territories so that the Norfolk Island community can be free to determine their political status, their economic, social and cultural development; and while we wait for Australia’s response to the UN Human Rights Committee, October 2019 sees us busy moving forward with developing possible future governance arrangements that will address mistakes and roadblocks faced by past Norfolk Island governments.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln:
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Please join us in the conversation. You can find us on our website: https://www.norfolkschoice.com or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NorfolkIslandPeopleForDemocracy/
Norfolk Island People for Democracy.