Norfolk Islanders find new hope in Malcolm Turnbull

Norfolk Islanders find new hope in Malcolm Turnbull

Norfolk Islanders campaigning against an end to their self-government have renewed hope after the elevation of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and will seek an ombudsman's investigation into the creation of a governing local council.

Former Norfolk Island chief minister Andre Nobbs has called on Mr Turnbull to review laws passed by federal Parliament in May. They replaced the island's nine-member Legislative Assembly with an advisory council before permanent measures are created in 2016.

Norfolk Island: a renewed push to win back self-government.

Norfolk Island: a renewed push to win back self-government.

The changes will see Norfolk Island brought into mainland Australian tax arrangements, as well as provision of welfare, health and education.

Mr Nobbs, who was chief minister from 2007 until 2010 and also served as tourism minister, said many islanders had welcomed the toppling of former prime minister Tony Abbott as a chance for the changes to be reversed.


The calls for reversal are being supported by former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope who has criticised the end of self-government arrangements.

The legislation was supported by the Abbott government and Labor opposition, and the latest push for a reversal would face significant challenges to be successful.

"The community of Norfolk Island would now welcome the new Australian government leadership to review previous decisions made on flawed data and misleading statements and reports ... that influenced previous Australian government decisions," Mr Nobbs said.

"Misleading advice and reporting ... to support the Norfolk Island Act amendments has resulted in negative and irresponsible actions being imposed on the community of Norfolk Island."

He disputed claims that Norfolk Island had poor infrastructure, that majority support existed among the 1800 residents for the removal of the island's self-government or that the changes would be in the best interests for the Norfolk and Australian economies.

Mr Nobbs said a complaint would be made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman outlining concerns held by some members of the island community into the current administration arrangements.

The former Norfolk government has described the changes as an "absolute denial of human rights and a grave travesty of justice". Chief Minister Lisle Snell and Speaker David Buffett led representations in Canberra opposing the plan, supported by Mr Stanhope.

Mr Stanhope, who was administrator of Christmas and Cocos islands until 2014, has repeatedly called on his Labor Party colleagues to resist the return to "old colonial-style rule" and the "trashing of the democratic rights of the people of Norfolk Island".

A regional council is expected to be formed in 2016, and New South Wales will take responsibility for state functions on the island. Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann will become Norfolk's federal representative.

Norfolk was granted limited self-government in 1979, but has relied heavily on the Australian government for services. In May, Mr Buffett presented a formal "remonstrance" to federal Parliament and statements of grievances to Parliament's presiding officers.

Former territories minister Jamie Briggs in March described the changes as the first time Norfolk Islanders would have "a genuine democracy".

"The system that operates at the moment is not one vote one value," Mr Briggs said. "There are allocations of votes to certain family groups, which distorts the voting process."

Mr Turnbull named Bradfield MP Paul Fletcher as Territories Minister in his cabinet reshuffle last week.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for The Australian Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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