Way forward on Norfolk Island’s local government model

I know that community input is the key to unlocking the answers to many local issues. As your Minister, I am committed to open dialogue on how the Australian Government is working with the Norfolk Island community to ensure your voice is heard on matters of importance.

One of the first issues raised with me was the strong community concern about proposed increases in rates and waste management charges. That is why we acted and implemented a staged approach to increases.

I have also heard, loud and clear, that Norfolk Islanders want local democracy returned. As a result, I have been working hard to ensure that the next steps we take towards democracy on Norfolk Island allows for a steady, sound and financially secure future.

What cannot be ignored is the need for Norfolk Islanders to have a voice in electing their local government and for it to be financially sustainable. The Norfolk Island Regional Council (NIRC), like all local governments, needs to consider and enact revenue raising avenues to support important services such as road maintenance, waste processing and green space management.

I appreciate the concerns regarding land rates as a key revenue source, and whether the charging of rates is suitable for Norfolk Island and its culture.

Given the significance of these issues and my commitment to supporting a financially sustainable Council for Norfolk Island into the future, I plan to refer this matter to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories (JSCNET). The proposed inquiry would look into appropriate models of local government and equitable revenue sources to support those models.

Parliamentary committees like the JSCNET are an important part of the democratic process. They support robust debate on matters of government policy, administration and performance.

As a Minister, I am not a part of the JSCNET. If the Committee decides to conduct the inquiry, the conclusions reached would be independent and based on the strength of the evidence presented and thorough research that will be undertaken.

It is important to note that this referral has not been made with an outcome in mind. These matters are complex in nature, and resolving them will take time.

Importantly, an inquiry would complement the ongoing and very positive engagement between the Council of Elders (COE), Norfolk Island People for Democracy (NIPD) representatives, Administrator Eric Hutchinson, and senior representatives of my Department.

That engagement represents an important avenue to continue to realise opportunities for cultural recognition and allow all Islanders to have a voice.

Careful consideration and experience have led me to conclude that this targeted referral, with clear terms of reference, best supports a thorough examination of the relevant issues and options – while establishing clear pathways for your contributions.