Norfolk Island Community Reception
13 November 2018
Government House, Norfolk Island
Thank you very much indeed Eric for having me here at your place and for having, most importantly, your community here at your place; the tax payers of Norfolk Island.
Can I say that it's an incredible privilege for me to come back after being the shadow minister for Territories (2008/2009) to reflect on what the community was experiencing then, the anxiety and the challenges that you faced, and now to come and see how you are now, and to recognise, and many of you contacted me soon after I became your Minister, to say how unhappy you were with many of those changes.
My most important message to you is about how we all do need to work together in your interests, but recognising that you are the most important people and if you're not happy with how the Government determines the things that it does with you on Norfolk Island, then we will have let you down, and I don't want to do that.
So, there have been really challenging times and you, as members of this community, have been at times quite reasonably impatient, angry, upset—some things have been good. Medicare, I was the Health Minister, have worked well and will continue to work well for you.
But I also understand that the implementation process was rapid, arguably too rapid, and for those that can keep up may be ok, but for those who, for every good reason, were very concerned, find themselves in a challenging place.
My outlook on life is very much on the upside.
The thing that I remember and Chris Magri has just reminded me about my previous visit—I remember meeting Chris, I remember meeting Lisle, Mary Christian-Bailey, Andre Nobbs, Robin of course your Mayor who was with the Parliament then.
Eric will tell you, in politics there is so much that happens and you forget so much but, to me, all these experiences in 2009 remain very strongly in my mind, so I feel it's vital that, with the benefit of that experience. we work very hard for you.
Everyone is tired of ‘revolving door Ministers’ and I understand that. So, we need to set systems up for the long-term. Your Administrator is here and is a great benefit to me. We served in the 2010 Parliament together so you know we are good mates.
The Department, while the personnel may change, is a relative constant. Ministers unfortunately come and go, I'd love to be here in 10 years' time, and I mean that.
So what we need to do is give you the confidence that continuity is there. So that we aren't resetting, we aren't revisiting unless we need to as sometimes we do, we aren't re-litigating arguments that we can't win, but we are actually on a pathway to where we need to be.
And there is an election coming to Australia, and that may make some of you feel uncertain, but can I reassure you about one thing that there is a fairly bipartisan approach to the Territories which probably means you will be as cranky if Labor is in power as you might be if we are, but at the same time that does give a level of continuity. Everything is not going to be thrown up in the air and comes down and see where it lands—we have an established pathway for us.
My intention is to be open, transparent, tell it like it is, work really really hard for you. I am the Assistant Minister for all the Territories, so when I am in Canberra, I speak for the Territories, not for Canberra or for the mainland, but for the Territories, and they are different even though we come under the tax, welfare and other legislation net of the Australian mainland.
The future, you would have to acknowledge, is incredibly bright, and meeting so many people who have come back to Norfolk Island as Eric said, for lots of different reasons, and lots of different times of their lives to do incredible things because they wanted to come, because they have been drawn back. They are bringing their life experiences and their skills, and their smarts and that really is quite extraordinary, so it's not about you just being resilient and being able to deal with the winds of change, it's about you actually being the sort of people who could get on the front foot and make the change work for you, so I admire you tremendously for that.
I have an interest in how we bring better tourism opportunities to communities and I think there are huge opportunities here.
As I said to the Council meeting this afternoon I absolutely understand that having moved from self-government to the Commonwealth system of Government and then implementing a biosecurity arrangement puts all these road blocks in front of people who want to carry on their agricultural production businesses, and then for the Commonwealth to say 'oh that's just how it is' and not help you solve or deliver solutions is not acceptable!
So that's my number one message I am taking away, that that is not acceptable for us.
We know that food and wine tourism in rural parts of Australia is huge and so the ability to attract big spending tourists needs to be part of the future, so we might have lots of discussions about that.
Your hospital where I spent some time this afternoon, I want to see and I believe you must see a facility which delivers more than the current one.
It won't deliver everything—and we can talk about those details and I'm very happy to—but we can put some missing pieces in place, so we have research, training and rural health specialties coming here and with a room if I can call it that, you might call it a surgery, doctors and I might call it a procedure room, that actually has the equipment, the space and the right circumstances to deliver the sort of clinics that you need.
Because, remember the best doctors will always be somewhere else when you live in real Australia and I see a lot of that in my own part of the world, but we can bring them here and have them in purpose-built clinics with equipment that they need, supported, I have to say, by Medicare as that what makes the model work.
So, that when there is an emergency, when you can't get off the island by aero medical retrieval where something just goes wrong with the transport, we can deal with what we need to here.
There is a co-design process underway, and it's very important that you have your say, it is very important we have a local working party that is informed every step of the way, so that you see how it unfolds and you are well and truly consulted.
In previous lives I was an Air Traffic Controller, an aerial stock mustering pilot and I still have a commercial pilot's license, and those years on the family farm experiencing all the highs and lows, and there were a lot of lows of life on the land, taught me probably what I need to know about human resilience and the need to persist if you want to get a result.
I was a shearer's cook in outback Australia for three years and I will always say that the hard manual labour in the shearing industry taught me that there is nothing more honourable than a day's hard work and as life progresses things get a bit cushier behind the desk I actually have never forgotten that and I have the greatest respect for people who come from a lineage where hard work mattered and where it still does.
So thank you very much for having me here and we are very much here for you.
The Department, the Minister, and the Administrator, together, are here for you.