Official Reception Norfolk Island



14 February 2014

Government House, Norfolk Island

Thank you, Administrator, or Neil as he is otherwise known. Thank you everyone for being here. It is a tough place to be, obviously, pretty difficult circumstances standing around up here! Although I am not sure that a couple of hundred years ago, a bunch of people out the front of this place would have been as welcoming! It is great to be here, thank you.

As you can see, I have spent some time today with Robin and the Norfolk Island Government. Lots of twisting of arms! But it was a good discussion today, and it will be a discussion we will keep having with the Government and the community. As part of our great country, one of the roles of being the Minister for Territories, as part of the ministry, is that we've got the two extremes of Australia in some ways—Christmas Island on one side of the country and Norfolk on the other. So we go from two quite substantially different places, but some similar challenges in that sense.

It is a beautiful part of the world. It is the first time I have been here. I am very glad that I have had the chance to meet you, and I will certainly be back as long as the Prime Minister allows me to continue to serve in this ministry.

I think sometimes our challenges in society across the country always outweigh the opportunities in discussions. People often talk about the problems much ahead of the talk about the positive things. And I see here lots of positive opportunities. Lots of chance for a better future, a stronger economy, more jobs, higher wages, better outcomes. I think if we work together on some of the unique challenges you have, we can achieve that.

There will be some difficult decisions to make in the next little while, to make sure we have got the settings right. I think everyone pretty much agrees that there are some settings which aren't working well, and we will keep working through those. I know people want quicker answers than they probably get, they always do from governments, and governments are always slower than what you hope. But we want to make sure that we get the changes that I think we need to put in place right, and that we do that working with you, and the community, because ultimately it is in your interest to make sure we get the changes right.

We made a commitment at the election in September last year that we would work to integrate the Norfolk community into the broader taxation and welfare system of Australia. It seems to me to be quite absurd that we have got a different system in one part of Australia than we do in the rest of it, and I think we have to address that and we have to address that quickly. We are going to work away at addressing that, and in doing so now is also the time, to have a good look at how else we can make Norfolk work better for the community and work better for our country.

Nationally, the Prime Minister has made very clear that this year will be a difficult year. We will have to rein in the budget. We will have to live within our means and to do that we will have to make some very tough choices. The budget in May will be a very difficult political and economic document. We all have to go through those discussions as Australians to ensure we get the settings right. No one is excluded, and I am not here to tell you that it is going to be easy, but the outcome of it will be better. That is what we are working towards. We want to live within our means nationally, and we need to live within our means locally. So there are lots of tough decisions we have to make. But we think if we get it right, then in three years time, when we seek to be re-elected, people will start to acknowledge that what we have done is the right thing.

So I think there is lots of opportunity. I want to work with all of you in making the most of that opportunity. Clearly this is one of Australia's tourism assets, and if we can work together in finding ways to upgrade some infrastructure which needs upgrading—there is already a plan to upgrade the wharf facilities and Cascade—but there is obviously more that can be done in respect to the roads and other infrastructure around the island, to take advantage of the opportunities you have got, and I am very keen to have those discussions.

We want to work to create opportunities through your fabulous school, which I am told is doing a great job, the results indicate it is doing a great job, to keep more of those young people on the island, or at least attract some of them back after they have been to the mainland for some time. In that respect, we are looking at creating more apprentices, which I know has been talked about for a while, well that is now funded and ready to go, and I know the Administrator is working through the details.

So there are plenty of positive things to talk about. It doesn't always have to be about the problems. It can sometimes be about the opportunities, and it would be great to talk about the opportunities more often, than talk about the problems. To do that we need to get the settings right, and in that respect, you need to help not just me, but the Federal Government to ensure we are doing that.

I don't want to bore you. I know you are not being served alcohol while I am talking—it is always a very dangerous position to be in. But thank you so much for being here tonight. I think you have got an Administrator who has got the love of Norfolk in his heart and he wants to help ensure that you get the most out of this part of the country, and if you can all join me in helping Neil stay on for a few more years, I think that would be great! We may disagree slightly on our politics but we certainly don't disagree on our football teams!

I think, in fact I know this, making sure Norfolk is as good as it can be is a bipartisan commitment. This is not a party political issue. This is a make the most of our great country issue, and this is a particularly special part of the best country in the world, and it is a great privilege to be here.

Thank you very much.