The proud descendants of the Pitcairn Islanders, residents of Norfolk Island are up in arms about the Australian governments, recent take over of their territory. Norfolk Island is an external territory of Australia, and until recently self-governing. Norfolk Island is a small island in the Pacific located between New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia. These people were given land on Norfolk Island in 1855 by Queen Victoria after outgrowing their home Pitcairn Island. They are the descendants of the mutineers of the British ship the bounty and their Tahitian wives. They have their own language, and their own cultural customs. Something that is well worth preserving. They have gone down the road of self-sufficiency for a long time. The hard working ethic is a testament that they can make a go of it. And part of the cultural identity is to provide for the people who are in need, when needed.
When they received their self governance from Australia, in 1979 it was a working experiment. They made a good go of it and were considered a shining beacon as a small Pacific nation of 2,000 people. The experiment seemed to be working. Make no mistake they are a spirited people and want to preserve their cultural identity, which also means their independence which as a people they have held from time to time since the Mutiny on the Bounty. It probably wouldn’t have lasted as long were it not for their hard working nature. Many people holding down 2 or 3 jobs to round out their working week, and financial needs.
All of this is gone now as of the 1st July 2015. The Australian government has revoked their self-governance and appointed a caretaker to administer the island to give it what the Australian government considers is lacking. This is not the first time that this has happened. The British government first revoked their self-governance after their arrival in 1897 after not being happy about a sentence meted out to an offender on the island. After this time it was placed under control of the state of New South Wales as an external territory of Australia. And while sympathy should be given to these people especially those who work hard and honestly for their cause, sometimes their is security in numbers. It is hard to see larger countries fracture up, just because one culture, considers that their differences with the main culture are too large to maintain the relationship.
In the end the self-governance seemed to fail. Errors were made by both sides. Australia didn’t allow them to create their own industries in the territory allowing to generate more income, and Norfolk Island had laws put in place that didn’t allow the Australian government to intervene if things were being done contrary to the laws in Australia. The locals claim they were not given royalties for fishing activities in their EEZ (exclusive economic zone). Even allowing the locals to have a local fishing industry exporting the fish was not allowed. The locals claim it is worth $60 million per year what the Australian government earns from other operators fishing within their waters. However, the practicality of a fishing industry that has no port and launches boats with a pulley off a wharf that faces the predominant swell is not safe, and no doubt the Australian government refused them one for their own safety. The locals also don’t realise the cost of maintaining vigilance and surveillance over their waters. All done through the Australian defense forces, radar, and other authorities like the coastguards. Licensed fishers have to accurately report their catch, try policing that when they don’t have to return to a port to show your catch. Also, unscrupulous fisherman from poorer and non-conformist northern countries are more likely to hand over the money to someone with a bit more clout than a small country of 2,000 people. Without that in place their earning potential would diminish substantially.
According to a television report on the weekend, Australia decided to revoke their self governance, after becoming bankrupt in 2010 and asking Australia for a small sum of $3.5 million Australian dollars. Something was amiss with this report and I began to investigate. While it was good they were sticking up for the underdog, a lot of things were left unsaid and under represented. According to the Sydney Morning Herald article “trouble in paradise” from 2010 to 2013 Australia had paid the island $48 million Australian dollars. The decision to do so was agreed unanimously by all parties in Australian parliament.
What has not been talked about is the amount of corruption going on in the island. Under the Norfolk Island Act 1979, Australia had no way of tackling this problem and many others within the territory because they were responsible for their own prosecution. Reports going back to 2003 compiled by all important political parties stated exactly what is needed to turn around the economy of the island, and that members of the community had always found a way to counteract the measures put in place to get the resources to the majority of the people not just a few. It also stated that many reports had been done in the previous years by many authorities from different countries and nothing had changed.
To demonstrate how different the corruption is between Norfolk Island and the mainland corruption indexes from 100 to 0, ) being rotten to the core and 100 being pure as driven snow, New Zealand often top the poll at 100%, whereas Australia float around the 10th position averaging 80% trust. Norfolk Island’s index has been consistently similar and sometimes worse than that of South American country Colombia.
Government transparency was not happening on the island, and considering the 2003 report, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Australian government had decided that their is a time for action and a time for talking. Both governments had an agreed roadmap for sustainability with the end result being a final take over of power. Despite the roadmap being presented to the Norfolk Island government they still balked on upgrades and changes with the Australia tax payers money and by 2013 infrastructure and funding was scaled back because of mutual distrust. In the end to change the situation the full takeover was affected in 2014 and parliament dissolved.No more talking, action is needed. If their was a fine-line of self-sufficiency achievable on the island with the revenue they raised from their hard working ethic, it was not enough to cope without all the money being used for all the purposes it was intended for. The roads are badly potholed, the subsurface water needed for drinking is contaminated with fecal matter, and other infrastructure is badly in decline. The strange thing is that no foreign power has tried to intervene or comment on Australia’s decision. Not New Zealand nor Great Britain, who would have a good understanding of what is really going on. Nor is Australia commenting much, which as has been shown in the past that bad press about the island should be hushed so as not to affect their tourism industry.
Not all people are on the island are against Australia. Some people realise the link they have with Australia. These days because of their location, their blood is more and more Australian than they would like to believe. The community can also exclude outsiders, and many people are afraid to speak otherwise about what the loud minority say. If their are any voices out there that would like to say contrary or support Australia, they are afraid to do so, and risk the communities consequences. When they need to protect local people from pending prosecution they have a tendency of burning down houses, to hide any incriminating evidence. An honest local points to the reality of the situation between the mainland and the island and paints a closer picture. What is also pointed out in the chat is that even the locals have not used their own land to better their self-sufficiency, by growing more produce for themselves. The Guardian definitely paint the most neutral argument found on the net, but you have to get toward the bottom of the page to see what isn’t being done correctly.
The road forward would be good if the 2 authorities could come to a better agreement. Corruption doesn’t go away from anywhere it has stamped itself in a hurry. It can be masked but once the responsible parties have access to power again they tend to replicate it. The Australian government is said to extend the pier which would help the ailing tourism out immensely. Currently big boats have to anchor offshore and ferry people and goods in through launches. There are no boat ramps on the island and one should be built at Cascade Bay so that boats can launch when they swell is strong on the side, and go fishing for their own table. Also a port around the corner from Creswell Bay would allow yachts and other pleasure craft from entering the island which would increase the tourist demographics. Other laws which need to be in place will also be put forward as for better policing of the island. The locals are worried about land taxes or rates. I think they should not have to pay them in return for EEZ return benefits. They should also build a harbour and develop a fishing industry. Other necessities would be to encourage other farmers to produce different crops that are appropriate to their sub-tropical climate and give them export possibilities to New Zealand who don’t have the same climate. The culture should also be preserved as much as possible for it’s uniqueness and for it’s tourism draw-cards. Also tourism should be expanded to be more attractive to younger people, and subsidise cheaper flights from both Australia and New Zealand. Also a plan by the government for bushland regeneration clean-up teams to help the forests containing the islands endemic and native species, would give more jobs to the island. Finally if they really want independence, I say that there be a 6 member parliament, with 3 local members and 3 outside members; 1 from new Zealand, 1 Australia, and 1 from Britain, who as block can override local decisions if they found they were too protectionist or bad ideas for the economy.
Despite views that Australia are eyeing off possible oil or gas deposits in the Norfolk Island EEZ, according to scientific standards (given that Norfolk Island is not a continent) and the South Pacific Lawyers Association/ economy there are no proven deposits to be found in the EEZ.
While I certainly didn’t hope to put forward a one sided story, I tried to present information that no-one had put forward. All the information had been cross-referenced and links provided to the information to prove it. I wish the people of Norfolk Island all the best and good luck, and hope things turn out well for them.