Transcript of Interview: ABC Radio PM with Mark Colvin
20 October 2014
Subject: Norfolk Island
Mark Colvin: A report has recommended stripping Norfolk Island of self-government, due to years of financial troubles. The island's tiny economy still isn't raising enough tax to pay for services like roads and the parliamentary report recommends setting up a local council to help administer the island. Residents don't pay federal income tax, but the island has been relying on Commonwealth money. The Federal Minister responsible, Jamie Briggs, told political reporter James Glenday that the situation was completely unsustainable.
Jamie Briggs: I think the report makes some compelling points. We find ourselves in the situation where the Norfolk Island Government is broke. It's been bailed out by Australian taxpayers every year. The services on the island are not up to scratch: the roads are deteriorating, the broadband services are very poor, and the island's electricity network is extremely fragile and at risk of collapse.
James Glenday: This report out today recommends scrapping the island's Parliament. Given what you've just said, do you think self-government for Norfolk Island is an experiment that's failed?
Jamie Briggs: We want a government on Norfolk Island, which is sustainable and the governance arrangements which support that system I think need to better reflect modern Australia. Services that should be delivered by state governments should be delivered by state governments. Services that should be delivered by the federal government should be delivered by the federal government and likewise, services that can be delivered by local government would be best delivered by local government.
James Glenday: Are you essentially saying there that you'd like to see the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly essentially become a council?
Jamie Briggs: Well, I think what we need to do and what the Government is doing at the moment is we want to find a system that is sustainable. This is not about attacking the rights of people who live on Norfolk Island. To the contrary, this is about assuring that the system that operates out there provides for minimum entitlements of what you would expect to be in Australia: access to Medicare, access to the pension, paying your fair way when it comes to our taxation system. At the moment, the government that operates on Norfolk Island is skewed. It has not resulted in the outcomes that you would expect in other communities across Australia and it, in effect, is broke. The system can't go on.
James Glenday: What do you think will happen if nothing changes, if self-government remains the same?
Jamie Briggs: Well, I think you'll see a continual cycle of the Federal Government having to bail out the island. You'll see a continuous cycle of people leaving the island. If we keep going down this path, critical infrastructure will fail, critical services will not be delivered and people will suffer.
James Glenday: How much do you think it will cost to bring the island up to Australian standards?
Jamie Briggs: Well, that's what we're working through at the moment and my department has been leading work across the government to work through how much it will cost. But in saying that, we're also considering what it will cost not to do anything, because at the moment, each year, this year, we're putting in $7.5 million. That will only grow as the deficit on the island continues to grow.
It is, let's not forget, an island of only 1800 people, trying to deliver services that state governments deliver. You can't continually borrow money as a small community forever and a day, without a day of reckoning.
Mark Colvin: The Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs, speaking to James Glenday.