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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
Governance in the Indian Ocean Territories

PAYNE, Mr Russell David, Private capacity


CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, you should understand that these hearings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament.

Mr SNOWDON: Russell, if I could apologise in advance I will have to leave shortly.

CHAIR: Would you like to make a brief introductory statement before we proceed to questions?

Mr Payne : I will just give you the background of my involvement with Christmas Island and Cocos Islands. I was a surveyor with the Commonwealth government. I visited Cocos in 1982 as part of the government's normalisation of the cadastral land boundaries on the island, especially with the resumption of the properties from the Clunies-Ross family and converting it into Commonwealth property. I went back there in 1984, and then in 1985 I went to Christmas Island and set up the boundary system on that island. I set up the trig points and all that sort of stuff and got the boundary system working there. I visited the island regularly in 1985, 1986, and 1987. While we were there I as also doing the work for PMCI, the Commonwealth government's mining company that ran the phosphate mining up until 31 December 1987. Then I came back.

After it closed it was later re-opened and I came back to the island in 1991, principally as a surveyor for the mine. The Commonwealth were doing some things there about normalising more boundary work and they asked me to stay. So my six-week trip in 1991 ended up being a 21-year trip. I went and brought my family up and we lived there from 1991 to 2011. During that time I was involved in the first year of the operation of the Christmas Island Chamber of Commerce. Over that period I have had three two-year stints as the president of the Chamber of Commerce. That covers my involvement in the islands. Politically, I have been involved extensively there for the whole time, obviously in the Chamber of Commerce. We oversaw the normalisation of service provision on the island. When I arrived there if you wanted a light bulb, tap washer or a sheet of paper you went to the Commonwealth and got one from their stores and they gave you a chit and a bill at the end of the month. We ended up having hardware stores and newsagencies. The electrical workshops and plumbing workshops all went out to private enterprise. At the time, in 1991, the casino was being built. I was surveying on that. The mine was re-opening—I think it was early in 1992 that it kicked over and started. Over that time I have been before this committee—I think this is my fourth time—and I have been before a few others: transport and grants commission and stuff like that. On the system of governments—just a little thing—I was doing that with the grants committee in 1995; I did it with you guys in 2005; and here we are now, and I am 60 now. So, through 40, 50 and 60, we are still doing the same question.

Senator BACK: Are you in good health?

Mr Fonte : I am in perfect health, thanks to a recent operation.

CHAIR: We will see you next time then!

Mr Fonte : Yes. I hope I do not have to do this when I am 70. We really do not need to prolong the advancement of these islands much longer. The Commonwealth government has a very, very clear responsibility to the people on Christmas and Cocos islands to give them the same rights as the people who live in mainland territories and states. They simply do not have them at the moment, and it is really not an acceptable thing. It is the principal reason why the islands are not flourishing, why they are decaying and declining as communities, which is really, really sad. I am open to questions. I have a lot of experience in land, in developments and all that.

Mr SNOWDON: Russell is in a very good place to talk about planning and the town planning schemes Christmas Island. He will be able to tell you about the different iterations. But he will also be able to comment on the cyclical nature of the economy and what that has meant to development on the island over his experience, because I think that is really relevant to where we are sitting right at this point because of the changing nature of the immigration facility. I think there is a real story to be told here about planning, about the fact that we were talking earlier about access to land for development.

CHAIR: Why don't you give the committee the benefit of your experience, along the lines of what Warren said.

Mr Fonte : Today, as we are speaking, the Commonwealth has crashed the economy of Christmas Island for the fifth time since 1988. There are mass closures of business; there is a complete lack of business confidence on the island today, as we speak. The casino, the resort, has closed, obviously, because it has no more people to put in there from the detention centre. The Rumah Tinggi, which is a local pub, has closed. You talk about volunteers. Christmas Island is a great place for volunteers. We all volunteer there. One of the reasons that there are no volunteers is that there are no people. The permanent population of the island has been in decline for a number of years, even though the population level remains the same. Obviously we are getting staff in for the detention centre, but the actual nuts and bolts of the community of Christmas Island has not been sustained. All the money that the Commonwealth brags about in the newspapers and on reports on the island—'We are spending this on you; we are spending that on you'—is not actually for us; it is for the department of immigration and their facility out there—upgrading the sewerage, upgrading power; it is only to meet their needs. The needs of the Christmas Island community have been very sorely neglected over the whole period that I have been there.

When I got there, the Islands in the sun committee report was tabled in 1991. That had a full program of all the islands, the territories, about governance and things like that. We started off on a really good program with that, with the delivery of SDAs, and those sorts of arrangements with the Western Australian government were really good. They provided Christmas Island and Cocos Island with a very sound, well-worked, well-researched bureaucratic service across the board for those services that we picked up—something that an island state could not actually think about putting together themselves. The SDA part of that, the delivery agreement part of the recommendations, was really, really good. The only thing that they stopped doing was involving the communities in any say in those SDAs or the delivery of governance on the islands. To my mind, and having lived there and been involved politically all of that time, I have got absolutely no doubt that a local Indian Ocean territories combined assembly can be set up and managed and run properly under the Commonwealth of Australia, not as a separate entity.

Every time someone mentions self-determination it is this fly away thing, 'Oh, you want independence.' It is the last thing that we want to have on those islands. Basically, if you look at the legal status of Christmas and Cocos islanders as they sit today: if you sign up on their electoral roll you are actually not an Australian. You are under the care of Australia—you are looked after by Australia—but you are not Australian because your rights, obligations and responsibilities are not the same as a member of Australian states and territories. To overcome that is a very simple, very cost effective and efficient way of providing that the people in those Indian Ocean territories—those two lovely little communities—actually join Australia in full partnership. It gives you all these problems that we have. They are all about being remote—the ambulance service has not got an answer in five months. All of that responsibility is on the island; it happens straight away.

It is quite an easy system to set up. You get the Australian Electoral Commission in to set up the number of seats that you want and to set up the parliament—the type of assembly that you need. The grants commission go through all the budgets that are presented to the assembly by the professional CEOs of each section. That budget gets put together and we put that to the grants commission. They knock 10 per cent off it, as usual, and say, 'Tighten up,' and we get on with it.

With a parliament like that you would accept all Western Australian legislation that comes your way that supports your SDAs. You simply would not change it because if you change the law then instead of paying $400 an hour for a lawyer you would pay $800 an hour for a lawyer—they would be a specialist. You want to keep your bureaucracies operating properly and you want to keep the law on ambiguous with WA, so you get that process working. But all the decisions that are currently made by the department of territories should be made by an assembly—a combined one. I am not talking about two separate bodies.

I am saying that the minister can proclaim the Indian Ocean territories. He or she has the power—whoever it is—to do that. Just call it one territory. It is not at the moment; they are two separate geopolitical entities. They have their own laws. Both of them are Commonwealth and both are exactly the same except for CCK and CI on the end of them, but they are separate laws.

I have researched this a lot, and I can see it happening. I can see the people on the island—and Marty here could do the same; we could find people—enough people who are smart enough and intelligent enough to run a system like that on the island. I would like to see that as a recommendation from here, that we set that up. We have to do something, because what is happening now is destroying the communities. This massive behemoth of the Commonwealth government sits up there, trying to micromanage a tiny little island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is ridiculous. So, that is that part of it!

Mr VASTA: Is there a role for the administrator in that?

Mr Payne : Yes, there is absolutely a role for the administrator. The Commonwealth needs to oversee this, just like in the Northern Territory and the ACT. We would not be able to make laws. We would have full plenary power as a state to make laws but you would not make laws that contradict—as a state we cannot make laws that contradict—Commonwealth government responsibilities. That would be the same thing. The administrator's role would be, basically, to sign off on the legislation after it go through the assembly. The valuable service they provide right now is as this conduit to the minister and to other people that circumvents the department of territories. So you do not go through that—that is always a bad way to go, because they have their own vested interests in not allowing us to do it.

Senator BACK: That was the position put by other witnesses this morning, wasn't it? The administrator should report directly to the minister and not to the department.

Mr Payne : Absolutely. Has that changed?

Senator BACK: That is what the administrator does now. The administrator reports to the department, which filters it and decides what it wants to give to the minister and back again.

Mr Payne : Well, that has gone back. That was the system in 2000, when Bill Taylor left. When Evan Williams came in, from there on in until this appointment, obviously, it has been the other way around. A great place to go.

Senator BACK: That is what Mr Stanhope complained about, too. He found this frustration, that he did not report directly to a minister.

Mr Payne : I am not saying I am in favour of the way he performed his duties but—

Senator BACK: I am not interested in the personalities. Labor was in government, Mr Stanhope was the administrator. We come into government, Mr Haase is the administrator. The next time Labor is in government, Mr Haase will be out and it will be somebody else. Basically, that relationship is badly flawed.

Mr Payne : It is. In the period of the 2000s, that was the way it was set up. It changed the way we could do business on the island—especially at our level, at chamber of commerce level or something like that, it made it a lot easier to facilitate a few things, to get a bit of proper information and not have things stymied. So many decisions of this council, of this committee and other committees, have been put forward and accepted but then have been slightly bent, so it does not involve the islanders—another bureaucrat will get appointed to do this role that is supposed to be external to the Commonwealth. That has happened on a number of occasions, especially with the EDC—that has proved to be an absolute disaster on both islands. It has done absolutely nothing. The job of the guy they put on Christmas Island was to be the deputy official secretary, basically. We have achieved nothing—not one single thing since 2005. Ten years and not a single enterprise. It is ridiculous. If you are paying someone to develop your economy, it has to be developed for god's sake. That is where it is really frustrating.

With regard to economic development, you guys did it in your last hearing on the issue in 2010, recommending that the casino open. Our traditional way of working when I was with the chamber was that we would think up an infrastructure project and we would go out and belt it until the Commonwealth gave us some money and we could keep working. Our industry was Commonwealth infrastructure. We had the rebuilding program over the 1990s, which was really good for the economy of the island. We upgraded all our services. All our water, electrical, hospitals, schools, power station and sewerage treatment plant got revamped—a $167 million project. It was great stuff; it really worked well. When that finished, we had all these skills, our electricians and plumbers and all that, but we have to do something to keep them on the island. We need to. They have lost their surveyor—there was a surveyor there for 20 years—and I do not go there any more. There is plenty of work to do but we need to maintain a level of industry that keeps basic services going. If we continue doing what we are doing, we are going to go back to where if I want a sheet of paper or a light bulb or something I will have to come down, see you guys, knock on the warehouse door, and sign a little chit and get my bill at the end of the month. If we can convince the government—you are the people who will have to do it—to allow the legislation for the casino to be put back into place, that will, without a cost—no money—allow private industry the freedom to develop both those islands. I have been there three times—when the casino first opened, then it closed, when it opened again, then it closed, and then in 2004. I think we were right there until the Commonwealth canned it completely. It took away hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of development. I will not go into that but I am really savage about the way that happened. But what happens when the casino gets going is that you feel this mounting pressure, everybody starts getting ideas, everybody starts ringing so-and-so. There are so many people in Australia who keep a weather eye on the island, they just love it, and as soon as it gets moving they all start, like ants, walking towards it. It is an amazing feeling. There is buoyancy in the community, and what the community feels is quite amazing. They do not need to despair any more.

Senator BACK: That casino licence would have been issued under federal law, not Western Australian law?

Mr Payne : It is federal law. There is a law there.

Senator BACK: It is federal, it cannot be Western Australian?

Mr Payne : It would be a separate ordinance completely.

Senator BACK: That is correct, which it has been in the past.

Mr Payne : Yes, it has been.

Senator BACK: It was federal originally.

Mr Payne : The original one was, absolutely. It was managed here by gaming and—what is its name?

Senator BACK: It was managed here. It cannot be under WA legislation.

Mr Payne : No.

Senator BACK: Under WA legislation there can be only one casino and that is Crown.

Mr Payne : Yes, that is right. We have to have our own. The legislation is there and all it needs is to be enacted. I might say that when it was removed in 2004, it was not done in an open parliament, it was just removed under—you have a quaint term for it—

Senator BACK: A legislative instrument.

Mr Payne : Yes; and off it went. We were waiting for it to come up so that we could contact our politicians and voice our concern, but it never did.

Senator MARSHALL: Why was it removed?

Mr Payne : It was removed in the interests of the wellness of the community. It was interesting, because there has only ever been one scientific study done of that, and that was done prior to it opening in 1990 and there was found to be no impact. It was a very interesting day, because on the day it was announced that the legislation was going to be repealed the chairman of the Burswood casino announced that the shareholders should accept PBL's third and last bid for majority shareholding in Burswood casino. The minister for territories at that time got up in the morning as the minister for territories and went to bed as the minister for the environment, and then we ended up with a bloke from New South Wales—excuse me if there is anyone here from New South Wales, but it is a long way away from Christmas Island—who probably had to look up the atlas to find out where the hell the islands were, and he was there the next day. So when we went to complain the response was, 'Oh, don't shoot me, I'm new on the job.' I just found it a damning coincidence that those two things happened at the same time, and it happened on a date that was predetermined in May, I think, by PBL, by giving Burswood that time and date to make the announcement. You can draw your own conclusions. The last time I sat here 10 years ago, it was a recommendation that someone have a look into it through the parliament to find out how that occurred.

This is what happens. The group that was going to do it at that stage was the Korean Freedom League, which sounds fantastic—like marrying a million people at once or something. They are actually the returned services league of Korea, and they have been at war since 1952, something like that, and every person who was 20 years and older at that day, to this day, is a member of the Korean Freedom League. They have resorts all over the world. They have casinos, planes and ships. They do cruises. They do everything. That company was going to come down—18 months this was in process—and we were all getting more and more excited about this change that was going to happen. Part of this was that they were going to double the number of rooms at the casino from 152 to 320—straight up, before they opened. The next thing they were going to do was build a film studio on Christmas Island. Who dreamt that up? We used to try and think up things in the chamber. The Koreans are Asia's best soapie makers. They were going to create a film studio there to run a soapie—an Asian soapie—based on Christmas Island, with an audience of billions. Can you imagine? This was 10 years ago.

CHAIR: Casino Royale!

Mr Payne : Yes! Also, that company has the franchise for the Miss Asia beauty contest, and they were going to run that on Christmas Island, simply because—

CHAIR: It sounds like a glamorous option.

Mr Payne : Yes. This is the thing, if that had happened, and if that had been projected through now, we would not be worried about half this stuff. The island would be cranking, as would Cocos. In my experience, whenever Christmas Island's economy has gone buoyant, there is an absolute flow-on effect to Cocos Island because people are looking around—'Here are our neighbours'. And what a beautiful little place it is. So they start getting interest. It is a lay-down misere fix for the economy of the Indian Ocean territories, and it is our core economic base. There is nothing else. You would have to reinvent it, and we would have to come to you guys and say, 'Give us another couple of hundred mil', which in this day and age, no one is going to give you—probably not even a million. This is something that is going to cost you nothing. You just let it go. And private enterprise will just pick it up and run with it.

CHAIR: Mr Payne, the casino is a central theme of everyone's comments about Christmas Island. So thank you very much for that. Could I ask you, before I go back to other members of the committee, a couple of questions about the Commonwealth money is spent, because it is always interesting to see how much is spent in—

Mr Payne : Bricks and mortar.

CHAIR: these remote areas. In the 2013-14 budget, as provided by a previous witness, almost $106 million of Commonwealth revenue was provided to Christmas Island, and they break that down into operational expenses—which appear to be just SDA, not detention-centre-related stuff—of almost $43 million, and capital—which looks to me like, fundamentally, infrastructure support on the island—of almost $24 million. Let us go back to your first figure, which is meant to be the total of what was provided to Christmas Island by the Commonwealth: $116 million. What would you say about that? Are you suggesting that, barring the other stuff there, $60 million was spent on the detention centre that year?

Mr Payne : I have to say: I left the island in 2011. I have mates up there, obviously, and we talk about these things from time to time. Generally, when that was happening, that was outside, and that particular budget—for the running of the islands—was something that was done and kept local. There is a perception that it always is. The other projects, like upgrading the sewer or upgrading electrical, were not in those figures. They were separately funded—off different things. For instance, the building of the sports hall was outside of that. That was for the community, but we had to go and have a grants committee hearing to justify it and find out what it would cost.

CHAIR: I just look at these figures and I think that a lot—

Mr Payne : It is a lot of money.

CHAIR: is spent; there is no doubt about that. But it is a long way away, so I am not surprised that a lot of money is spent. When I look at the number of people on Christmas, for instance, my smallest suburb does not have as few people as Christmas Island.

Mr Payne : Exactly. And that is the big problem with it. We could quite easily have a population of, say, 1,500 on Cocos and 3,000 on Christmas—quite easily, if it had a vibrant economy running. And that is where you get your value for money. They are islands and there is the inherent cost of their remoteness. The Commonwealth grants committee tried for the whole of the nineties to find us a comparison town so that they could find a formula to fund us. They tried, seriously, for a whole decade and ended up writing it down, for both islands: 'No, we cannot. You are unique. You are not like any other place.' And that is the problem. We need to have a certain type of hospital because we are remote. We need a certain type of schooling because we are remote. All of this stuff happens, and it all costs more. And of course, due to the tyranny of distance, it will cost more to take stuff there too. So it has always been expensive.

CHAIR: The current permanent population is somewhere around 1,400—would that be your estimate?

Mr Payne : No. I would put it lower than that. I would put it at around 1,000. When I went there in 1991, there were 800 people on the island. The opening of the mine and the casino brought all the locals back. They all came pouring back because they all wanted to stay there. At the height of the casino, I reckon we got up to around 2,700. We were doing these figures in the chamber and trying to work out how many were there. For instance, when the first shot at building the detention centre was collapsed by the Commonwealth government—and it gave us three weeks bloody notice!—640 people left the island in June 2004, one month after that. It was a massive whack. Twenty-five per cent of our population just got up and left. It was very hard.

CHAIR: A spike for the airline figures!

Mr Payne : Yes.

CHAIR: But that was the only upside.

Mr Payne : My mate Peter White has the best business. He packs them in and packs them out. It does not matter what is going on; he is making money.

CHAIR: You have a range of experience over many years on the island. What would you say about the cost of service delivery or even bringing goods onto the island when the casino was flourishing and lots of people had come back—was it improved?

Mr Payne : Yes.

CHAIR: And then you have more coming?

Mr Payne : Yes. It is what we were talking about earlier—once these things start going. We had daily flights onto the island. I could get on the plane and fly to Cocos, work for six hours, hop on the plane and fly back, and that would cost me 200 bucks. It was a really good service for Cocos because the plane used to do that once a week. My jobs were either seven days or 10 days, and when this happened I could do it in one day—those sorts of things. We had planes going to Surabaya, Denpasar, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Broome, Cocos and Perth. That was run not by the Commonwealth government but by the casino. They did it.

This is the sort of stuff that happens when the economy works. You talk about $116 million and you say, 'Righto, that's our budget for the year; the government's budget for Christmas Island'; we actually got up to a stage where we were just under 40 per cent taxation return even though we are GST-free. We actually raised thirty-seven per cent, or something, of the money in our own taxes from our own industry.

CHAIR: And on these figures local revenue and rates are less than 10 per cent of the total budget that is being provided?

Mr Payne : Yes. We bunged 30 per cent on that when it was really working. There was a mine operating. I think even the mine's production is starting to fade now, from what I have heard. The mine has the same problem.

CHAIR: Taking you slightly off most of the subjects we have covered so far: we were on the island and someone made reference towards the end of our hearing period about the environmental problems with dust from the conveyor belts blowing through the cove area and around there. What has been your experience over that time? It seems rather bizarre that here we are in 2015 and what appears to be quite a personal, individual environmental hazard for people still exists.

Mr Payne : It is an interesting thing. When I was there, there was no dust suppression at all. I used to live down at the Roundabout Flats right beside the wharf, and at times if you put your hand on the thing then took it away you would see where your hand had been. It was ridiculous. Pressure mounted and the mine put in these dust extractor flues into where the ship was loading—that was the worst dust period. I know that they have monitors around doing the dust.

It has greatly improved since the early days and I do not know, except on extenuating or extreme weather conditions, that it really is a problem to the extent that it was. You could not mention it, because if you mentioned the dust you were cutting jobs—'Don't talk about it.' People were putting up with it, but the chamber of commerce did not, so we were able to do things that went against those sorts of situations. With the dust: I had a friend who was the chemist, and there was a measurable intake of Ventolin and stuff like that after it started up again. They had such a long period where there was no mining whatsoever and then production started again in May 1992 and went on. Right at that crucial part there were a lot of those sorts of symptoms that came up, but in the latter years—no. They did fence it off.

There is also a general thing about being anti-mining: it is dusty—and it is. If you look at the situation of that thing, it is right in the middle of our town. However, when it was built it was the core hub of the whole island. There has been talk about putting it around the corner, but there is no need to do it. I do not think it is as bad a problem now as it was.

CHAIR: Interesting. We just completed a report last year with regard to Norfolk Island, and legislation is now before the Commonwealth parliament for changing the governance model for Norfolk Island and moving more to a shire-based system. We recommended that; the government is acting upon that. What makes Christmas-Cocos-the Indian Ocean territories a better option for local government than we found to be the case on Norfolk?

Mr Payne : You have got to separate two things. One is that our local government is a local government—it is not an assembly, it does not have any state plenary powers; it just has its powers under the Local Government Act, or whatever it is called. The thing that Norfolk Island gives to me is the fact that it has been a self-governing territory for a long time, and it has a group of people or a community that has a leadership group that can be put into an assembly-type system. The thing that was absolutely wrong with Norfolk Island was their system of governance—it was shocking. It was terrible. What you need to do with Norfolk Island is what we are doing here. That is, to give them SDAs to New South Wales, to get all that infrastructure in place and all the bureaucracies in place—without taking the self-determination off them, without making them non-Australians or second-class citizens or protectorates who are not even citizens, they are protectorates of it.

I could read out a little thing I have about the legal status of Christmas Island in international law, and it is something the Commonwealth cannot refute. It is there in your face—you signed up for these things and these are the rules you play by. On Christmas Island, Cocos Island and Norfolk Island, Australia asserted its sovereignty on those islands. You did not ask the vote of the people who are on there: 'Do you want to be Australian or not?' You just said: 'We will have that from Britain, that from Britain and that from Britain,' and we got all three. Under international law we even have the right to have a vote on our sovereignty and where we want it. There was a little island in America who sold themselves on eBay because America was ignoring them. They were a dependency of America that put their governance out there.

CHAIR: How did that go?

Mr Payne : It got them a new hospital, a new school and American flags flying everywhere. It worked. There is Tuvalu, which took up a loose association with New Zealand a couple of years ago. One of the big ironies about this is that these people from Cocos, in 1984, voted in the United Nations-sponsored vote to become Australians. That was in 1984, and every year we have a holiday where the government has a big barbeque on the island to celebrate a non-event, because the only thing that happened after that vote was that the Cocos Islands got a hell of a lot more law imposed on them, but absolutely no change in their status. They are still just dependents of Australia, in a position of subordination.

It behoves you guys and the Commonwealth to fix this situation. I sat there for 20 years; this is my third governance thing. It is the only reason I popped up and said: 'Governance again—I will have another crack at this.' You need to address the situation, because I know for a fact—I have seen it with my own eyes—the differences in the communities with this system of governance that we have now. It just does not work. We need to take a step back and to put something in that (1) satisfies the Australian government's responsibilities to the people on the islands and to their international contracts; and (2) actually works better. I have studied it, I have watched it. I have watched decisions go through and fail, and some decisions go through and win. Why they win, how they win—I have seen it work. You see these things happening when the power is put back into the people.

You do not need too many people—we are talking about maybe four people on each island. You would let the Australian Electoral Commission come in and do a model of governance. You would only have a unicameral government; you would not want a House of Lords or tribal elders or whatever-type thing. You would just keep it as a single level of governance with eight or nine people—nine people, probably—with equal support on each island. And, exactly the same as in Australia, everyone has got a vote; voting is compulsory; you have got to do your budgets; your oversights are all there. Everything is there, and it all sits neatly underneath the Commonwealth of Australia. It is a cost-effective and really efficient way of providing real services to the island. That is what you should be doing. Going back to Norfolk, my view is that you should be doing that on Norfolk Island. To take away their right to self-determination would be a bad step, a big step backwards. It really would be.

CHAIR: I think that the model that we will end up with on Norfolk Island will still be a local government, and then part of a state electorate and part of the electorate in Canberra as well, so people will end up having a vote.

Mr Payne : That is another thing, with due deference to Warren, that one of my party tricks was to tell people, 'Guess where I vote?' There is the look on their face when we say, 'We vote in Alice Springs.' It is a great little look; it is incredulous. Why this little island? I know why, politically, because they are territories. If we are going to go with the territory I would think that we would probably be better served to be in a lower house seat that covers Parliament House, so that seat then becomes whatever it is 'and the territories'. That is where Norfolk, Christmas and Cocos all vote. So we would be there at the seat of power directly at the area around. That is my opinion.

I think we would be better served if we are represented directly, not just in the Northern Territory where we vote. They do not even recognise 'and the other territories'. We vote in the Northern Territory. Lingiari is named after a very prominent Aboriginal man who did a lot of good work in that area. That, to me, is not an effective way of producing or getting our voice to Canberra. If you have that sort of setup federally so that we have a more accessible vote, we would have the administrator overseeing the operations of the assembly and making sure the Commonwealth's powers and systems are in place. He just oversights it. It is just truly easy to do; it seriously is. It is just too easy. I actually got the Northern Territory act, the one that made them self-governing. I do not have it with me or I would give it to you. I changed the preamble and changed 'Northern Territory' for 'Christmas Island' and it reads perfectly. You would probably need to change about five per cent of it. It is just simple and straightforward. I am not reinventing the wheel. We are not going anywhere.

CHAIR: Are there any other questions?

Senator BACK: I just have one totally unrelated. From your chamber of commerce days the sea freight service is an absolute nonsense and a joke. So how do we solve it? The Commonwealth simply goes out to tender.

Mr Payne : They do not do anything. They just pay the bill.

Senator BACK: No, I am saying what we should do.

Mr Payne : What we should do? Absolutely.

Senator BACK: Put out an expression of interest to anyone interested in providing a service to Cocos, Keeling and Christmas Islands with the Commonwealth's volume as the underpinning, because it is now anyhow. Just say, 'This is what we require, and interested parties should submit their expressions of interest by such and such a date'. That would solve it, wouldn't it?

Mr Payne : Exactly. When I was there one of my many tasks was as ships' agent for the Clunies-Ross shipping company. When those two shipping lines were running it was a very good freight system. We were getting probably three deliveries a month at a very competitive rate. The rates now are just basically whatever they want to charge. The Commonwealth, in its position of buying power, has done nothing. This is where you talk about proper expenditure. That is it. There is an inflated amount that they pay for their freight.

Senator BACK: I think the best example was given to us on Home Island. I will check, but from memory I think the cost of cement on the mainland is about $290 to $300 a tonne and landed on Home Island it was $3,380 a tonne. It's not bad if you can get it right.

Mr Payne : Exactly right. You can get it down from up north. We had a problem in the rebuilding program of Australian standards on material, and we could source things cheaper in Jakarta. You could get the same stuff, but it was not really the same stuff. That was one thing that we considered. Our fuel should be a lot cheaper. Our fuel is ridiculous.

Senator BACK: That comes from Singapore now, anyhow.

Mr Payne : Yes.

Senator BACK: I was also told on Christmas Island, since I am on that theme, that in ringgit—and from memory there is—what?—three or four Malaysian ringgit to the dollar?

Mr Payne : Yes, something like that. Three-something.

Senator BACK: The gentleman told me he can purchase out of Malaysia, in ringgit, the goods for the same price that he pays in Australian dollars out of Fremantle: one third.

Mr Payne : The ship that brings the fuel in is a cranky old ship. She is not a Rolls Royce. We are just there. We are just a day-and-a-half steam from Singers, and a lot of the time it comes from Cilacap, which is our closest port. I think someone was telling me it is nearly $2.30 a litre. It is ridiculous! That is a contract that we have never been able to see. We always wanted to do that, but even under freedom of information through the Ombudsman we could not even have a look at the envelope it was in. It was just shocking.

Senator BACK: And continuing to resist the temptation.

CHAIR: Are there any other questions? All right, thank you for attending and giving evidence at the committee's hearing today.

Mr Payne : It is my pleasure.

CHAIR: If the committee has any further questions for you they will be sent in writing through the secretariat.

Mr Payne : Thank you.

Mr VASTA: Let's not come back in—

Senator BACK: I was going to say that we do not want to see you in 10—

CHAIR: We like to think that we are an action committee! Before I close the meeting, can we have someone move that the committee authorise submission 34, the MINTOPE submission, for publication?

Mr VASTA: I will move that.

CHAIR: That concludes the proceedings for today. Thank you very much for your attendance and your contribution today.

Resolved that these proceedings be published.

Committee adjourned at 11:46