Transcript of Interview: ABC 24 with James Glenday
19 March 2015
Joe O'Brien: Norfolk Island residents will soon be forced to pay income tax and their Parliament will be scrapped under a $136 million plan signed off by Federal Cabinet. The tiny island's 1,800 inhabitants will also get access to Australia's health and welfare systems for the first time from July next year. There's likely to be some opposition to the move on Norfolk Island.
Political reporter James Glenday spoke with the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs about why he is making the changes.
Jamie Briggs: With 1,800 people in their population, it's just not sustainable to be able to deliver the services that Australians expect to get. For an unfortunate fluke of history, people on Norfolk Island or Australians on Norfolk Island have not had access to what are normal, expected safety net entitlements like family payments, like the pension.
James Glenday: They also haven't had to do the heavy lifting of paying tax though either.
Jamie Briggs: Right, so they are going to do both. They're going to have access to the Australian welfare system and they are going to pay tax. They have paid tax; they've paid local taxes which are really quite inefficient.
James Glenday: But not income tax though.
Jamie Briggs: No, no, but they increasingly are paying higher taxes on Norfolk Island, because increasingly the Norfolk Island Government is, in effect, broke and needs the Federal Government each year to pay it out or to come in and back stop its spending. That's getting worse year by year and something had to happen, even the Norfolk Island—he most strident defenders of the current system say something has to change.
James Glenday: A recent report on the state of the island found that the roads were in disrepair, there could be problems with the sewage, will this be fixed if or when the Commonwealth takes over?
Jamie Briggs: Yeah. Well, add to that the hospital, add to that the electricity network, add to that the communications system. It has a lot of challenges. It's had no capital expenditure for many, many years. Roads haven't been upgraded since the 70s, the hospital's in a state where Medicare won't accredit it. We want Norfolk Island and the very special place it has in Australia's history to be successful. It's not successful at the moment. There are a myriad of problems. This is an attempt to address those problems in a genuine way.
James Glenday: How much community opposition do you expect to face today when the residents of the island learn about this?
Jamie Briggs: Well, we've consulted with the community comprehensively. I've written now to the community twice and a third time today, explaining what the Government is doing. The most overwhelming bit of feedback I've had is get on and do this. Far from opposition, people have been very eager for this to happen. Now there will be a small group who are associated with the Government at the moment, who are eager for that to remain the case. Now, I appreciate that and they will be passionate in their arguments. However, I think in the end the community will see the wisdom in the direction we're taking. That's certainly been the indication we've had from a vast bulk of people on the island. They want this fixed, they want the Australian welfare and taxation system to operate and they want a suitable level of Government to be established on the island so they can go forward without the constant issues they're battling at moment.
Joe O'Brien: Jamie Briggs there.