Norfolk Island Governance Inquiry Report

27 November 2023

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I present the committee's report, incorporating dissenting reports, entitled Restoring democracy: report of the inquiry into local governance on Norfolk Island.

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I present the report of the inquiry into local governance on Norfolk Island, entitled Restoring democracy. This inquiry was referred earlier this year by the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, the Hon. Kristy McBain. A key focus of the committee's work was local governance models and equitable revenue sources to support the Norfolk Island Regional Council. The committee's inquiry followed the suspension of the Norfolk Island Regional Council in 2021 and the introduction of administrative arrangements for a three-year period. The committee recognises the pain these changes caused the Norfolk Island community, the subsequent democratic deficit they left and the strong desire of Norfolk Islanders to have a voice in the election of their local government representatives. It is hoped that the recommendations presented in this report can restore democracy to Norfolk Island and play a part in rebuilding the relationship and trust between Norfolk Island and the Australian government.

The recommendations in this report present a case and potential process for the restoration of democracy through the establishment of a newly created democratically elected governing body on Norfolk Island. The committee recommends that a new bespoke model of local governance be legislated by the Australian government following thorough community consultation. This new governing body should include a mix of democratically elected members and Commonwealth appointed members. The committee has specifically recommended that the majority of members on the governing body be elected, with elected members holding the balance of power. The Commonwealth appointed members will be selected via a merit based process and have expertise in public administration, and preference will be given to qualified locals where possible.

Of particular importance to the committee is recommendation 1, which proposes the development of a preamble for inclusion in the governing legislation. The purpose of this preamble is to recognise the culture and heritage of Norfolk Island, define the nature of the relationship between Norfolk Island and Australia and set out the shared aspirations for the future of the relationship. It is important that this preamble recognises the cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of Norfolk Island and its residents. The committee places great emphasis on the preamble and views it as an important step in renewing the relationship between Norfolk Island and the Australian government.

The committee understands and is sympathetic to the distress caused by the removal of the preamble in the governing legislation in 2015 and the years of uncertainty to have followed. I note that the process of developing a preamble is already underway through the newly elected governance committee, and our committee will be following their work closely.

The committee recommends that the Norfolk Island community have a say on the draft preamble to be included in the governing legislation as well as the final form of the new governing body. It is recommended that a binding, compulsory vote to approve this final governing model take place prior to the end of next year. The recommendations presented in this report will contribute to the evolving policy landscape on Norfolk Island and the ongoing discussions about governance arrangements on the island.

The committee acknowledges the newly formed Norfolk Island Governance Committee, which has been established to facilitate discussions with key stakeholders involved in on-island government service delivery and governance matters. It is recommending that the findings of the committee's report be referred to this governance committee for further consultation and refinement with the local community. Once the final governing body has been agreed to by the Norfolk Island community, the committee recommends that the responsibilities of the new body and the mechanism for local input into Commonwealth and state responsibilities be clearly defined.

During this inquiry, the committee travelled to Norfolk Island to undertake site visits and public hearings. We were greeted with warmth and an open mind by local residents. We were able to witness firsthand the connection Norfolk Islanders have with their island and how this forms part of their unique identity and culture, distinct from mainland Australia. It is a beautiful part of the world, and the committee enjoyed our time there. I would like to sincerely thank those on Norfolk Island who engaged both respectfully and in good faith with us. The committee talked to people publicly and privately throughout the inquiry, and I hope you can all see your history, contributions and insights reflected in our report.

I would especially like to thank my fellow committee members for their hard work and ongoing engagement throughout the inquiry, particularly Deputy Chair Mrs Nola Marino. I want to particularly thank Mrs Marino; Mr Gosling, my Labor colleague; Senator McLachlan; and Senator Pocock, who travelled to Norfolk Island with the committee earlier in the year. I also want to thank our secretariat for their incredible work on this challenging report—Ms Fran Denny, the committee secretary; Mr James Bunce; and Ms Josephine Moa, the inquiry secretaries, for your really comprehensive work on what has been a challenging and very well done report. It is much appreciated and, without you, it would not be possible.

I commend the report to the House.