National

Angry Norfolk Islanders reject recommendation to abolish parliament in favour of Canberra rule

When Canberrans were asked in 1978 if they wanted to govern themselves, a resounding majority said "no". The federal government ended up giving the city a Legislative Assembly anyway.

Trouble in paradise: Norfolk Island's population is dwindling rapidly.
Trouble in paradise: Norfolk Island's population is dwindling rapidly. 

But while the dwindling community of Norfolk Island desperately want to keep their nine-member parliament, they appear set to lose it.

About 300 residents attended a meeting on Wednesday night with the island's administrator, former Liberal MP Gary Hardgrave, to discuss a federal parliamentary committee's report on the island's future.

Norfolk Island Chief Minister Lisle Snell lobbying in Canberra.
Norfolk Island Chief Minister Lisle Snell lobbying in Canberra. Photo: Jay Cronan

The report expressed concern at the community's worsening economic prospects and rapidly shrinking population (officially about 2100 though, by some accounts, the island has as few as 1300 permanent residents).

The committee recommended the Abbott government intervene swiftly by abolishing Norfolk's Legislative Assembly and allowing federal bureaucrats to take over the island's administration.

But Norfolk's Chief Minister, Lisle Snell, said the "clear outcome" from Wednesday's discussion was that residents opposed the recommendation and instead wanted a referendum to determine how the island should be governed.

He said Mr Hardgrave had told the meeting "you can ask the referendum questions until the cows come home".

"This statement suggests that he [Mr Hardgrave] will not support the request by members of the community for a democratic decision-making process through referendum or plebescite," the Chief Minister said on Thursday.

"As one member of the meeting clearly stated to the administrator: 'I can vote to get rid of the Assembly but I don't have a vote to get rid of you.'

"It is clear that the decision on the democratic rights of Norfolk Islanders will not be determined by them but by politicians in Canberra without any recourse available to the residents of Norfolk Island."

A 2013 report on the Pacific island, which is closer to New Zealand than Australia, warned that its economy was deteriorating. It found business activity was down 24 per cent from a year earlier, about 40 per cent of Norfolk's shops had closed and many of its residents relied on welfare payments.

The federal Territories Minister, Jamie Briggs, said earlier this year the local government "seems to lack the capability to address many of the key sustainability issues facing the island".

However, his spokeswoman said on Thursday the government was yet to decide on its response to the parliamentary committee's recommendations.

The government would continue to consult the island community until December and announce a decision early next year, she said.