Norfolk Island: new legal and governance arrangements

Norfolk Island: new legal and governance arrangements

On 14 May 2015 the Australian Parliament passed the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and seven related Bills which, from 1 July 2016, will change the legal and governance framework for Norfolk Island (NI) and extends certain Australian health, welfare, taxation, quarantine and immigration services to the Island. The legislation implements one of the key recommendations of the 2014 bipartisan report from the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, Same Country: different world in replacing the NI Legislative Assembly with a local government-type body, the NI Regional Council.

The Norfolk Island Act 1979 (the NI Act) established a form of self-government for the Island. The NI Act established the NI Government, composed of an Administrator (and Deputy Administrator(s)), a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Council and a public service. NI is administered by an Administrator who approved all Bills passed by the NI Legislative Assembly before they become law. Under the NI Act the NI Assembly and Government had powers far beyond those of the Australian states. They controlled not only what fell within state jurisdiction but also social security, health, taxation and immigration and settlement, subject to limited oversight by the Commonwealth.

The reforms will be phased in over two stages: an interim transition period and the final arrangements.

During the interim transition period, which will commence on a date to be proclaimed, the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly and Executive Council will be abolished with legislative power being conferred on the Governor-General. The statutory office of the Administrator will continue as will the NI public service. A five-member Advisory Council will be established as an interim consultative body to represent community views during the transition process and consider the best model for the planned NI Regional Council.

The final arrangements, commencing 1 July 2016, include amending the NI Act and 115 Acts to provide for: the establishment of an elected NI Regional Council to provide local and municipal services; the application of New South Wales (NSW) state law to NI as Commonwealth law and to allow the Commonwealth to enter into arrangements with the NSW Government for the delivery of state-level services; and extending certain mainland social security, immigration and health arrangements to NI. The Census and Statistics Act 1905 (Cth) will be extended to cover NI allowing for the collection of statistics similar to the rest of Australia.

The Member for Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory, will become the islanders’ federal representative, when voting is made compulsory and Canberra becomes their electorate.

There has been a mixed reaction to the proposed legal and governance arrangements from NI residents. While residents have on the whole welcomed the extension of Australian health and welfare services, the transition from a self-governing territory to a modern local government-type authority has also been perceived as devolution of the Island’s independence. In a non-binding referendum on the 8 May 2015 Norfolk Island residents have overwhelmingly indicated they want a say in their future governance arrangements. The NI Government presented a formal statement of grievances to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy President of the Senate on 25 May 2015 in an attempt to halt the loss of self-government.

The Australian Government has committed to high levels of structured consultation with NI residents over the reforms. The consultation process has commenced with representatives from Government departments, such as Human Services and Australian Taxation Office, holding information sessions on NI. A Commonwealth Shopfront will be established on NI to provide ongoing information about the reform process. The Australian Government has already called for nominations for the NI Advisory Council.

In the 2015–16 Budget (p. 137) the Australian Government has committed $136.6 million over five years from 2014–15 towards the implementation of the reforms. This commitment includes $35.8 million in capital spending and estimated revenue of $19.9 million, due mainly to the extension of federal taxation to NI from 1 July 2016.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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