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Tuesday, 21 May 1957

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill, unlike the Norfolk Island Ordinances Bill 1957, is intended to repeal the Norfolk Island Act 1913-1935, and to replace it by a new Norfolk Island Act which will contain most of the provisions of the existing act, together with some new ones. As honorable members will be aware from, my explanation of the previous measure a few minutes ago, it was recently found necessary, as the result of advice given by the law officers of the Commonwealth, to re-examine certain sections of the Norfolk Island Act relating to the method followed for the commencement of ordinances made under that act. Since we were required to make that examination, it was thought desirable, at the same time, to review the act as a whole in order to see whether any other changes or revisions might be necessary after the lapse of more than twenty years since the act was first passed. The opinion reached was that it would be a decided advantage to re-make the act, partly for the sake of making the legislation tidier; partly in order to bring it into line with the more recent acts passed by the Parliament in relation to the administration of other Commonwealth territories; and partly in order to introduce new positions in relation to the administration of justice and local government in the island community. As I indicated earlier, the greater part of this bill simply repeats the provisions of the existing act, and I shall not refer to those provisions. I direct the attention of honorable members only to those parts of the bill which either amend existing provisions or introduce new provisions.

First, I think that I should say something about this Territory for the benefit of those honorable members who have not had the pleasure - and it is indeed a pleasure - of visiting it. A parliamentary delegation visited the' island at the time of the celebration of its centenary last year. I feel sure that all the members of that delegation - I see some of them in the chamber at this moment - carried away a lasting impression of the beauty of the island's scenery, and the kindliness of its people. Norfolk Island lies about 900 miles off the east coast of

Australia. It has a population of just over 1,000 persons, living on an island of an area of approximately 13 square miles. It might be compared, in general appearance, with a piece of one of the most pleasant parts of southern England with the difference that it is encircled by the sea. It has also been called the' Madeira of the Pacific.

The life lived on Norfolk Island is the life of a rural community. Hitherto, the most important cash crop, and the major source of the income of the island, has been the production of bean seed, but recently a whaling station commenced operations, with a quota of 150 humpbacked whales, and it is possible - in fact, there is a very strong possibility - that an expansion of this activity will be the commencement of commercial fishing and the quick freezing of vegetables for export. So we look forward to a period when the island may be economically on the verge of greater activity. The tourist traffic is also of some importance to the island, and its picturesque past, the romantic ruins which survive from the old colonial period and the beauty of its scenery, present attractions which deserve to be more widely known. A large number of the population are the descendants of the Pitcairn islanders who came to Norfolk in 1856, but the general character of the population is very similar to that of the sort of population to be found in any of the country areas of Australia.

The most important innovation in the bill now before the House is a proposal to create a Norfolk Island Council. There is at present on the island an Advisory Council of eight elected members. They have the functions of advising the Administrator on any matters referred to them, and of scrutinizing the drafts of ordinances before the ordinances are made by the GovernorGeneral. The bill now before the House proposes to create a Norfolk Island Council, and it is proposed that this council, when created, will have all the powers and functions of the present Advisory Council and, in addition, it will be given, by ordinance, control over a defined field of government. These new powers and functions to be given to this new body will include the making of by-laws, the levying of rates and fees, and control over its own expenditure. The field of government in which the council may be given these powers is set out in a schedule to the bill. In broad terms, this field of government corresponds to the field of government which is occupied by a local governing authority, or by other local authorities set up for defined purposes in Australian rural areas. For example, among the subjects mentioned in the schedule as being subjects over which the council can have authority and control are matters such as roads, drainage, sanitation, control of livestock, pests and noxious weeds, electricity supply, water supply, control of guest houses, control of places of public entertainment, the sale and distribution of foodstuffs, buildings, road traffic, trading hours and so forth. That gives an indication, and the second schedule to the bill gives exact details, of the field of government in which it is proposed that this council should exercise its powers.

It is intended that this council will be inauguarated by ordinance, or ordinances, in accordance with the provisions of the bill now before the House. It will, of course, be necessary, for the smooth working of the proposed council, that there should be a willingness on the part of the island community to undertake the burdens and responsibilities of local selfgovernment. In doing so, they can be assured of the ready support and encouragement of the Government. We believe that this will open the way to a greater measure of autonomy than the island community has ever enjoyed. On matters other than those confided to the council, the provision for making ordinances for the Territory will continue unchanged. The procedure, as honorable members will know, is for advice to flow from the council to the Administrator, to the Minister, and to the GovernorGeneral, who makes the ordinance.

This bill will, however, make a slight change in the procedure for submission of ordinances to this Parliament. All ordinances made in any of the Territories have to be tabled in this Parliament, and it is, of course, open at any time to this Parliament to act on matters tabled in the Parliament. In future, ordinances will have to be tabled within fifteen sitting days, instead of 30 days, and can be disallowed by this Parliament, if notice thereof is given within fifteen sitting days after tabling. The bill will also provide that, if the conditions concerning tabling are not complied with, an ordinance shall be void and of no effect; and that, if notice of motion is given in Parliament to disallow any ordinance and such motion has not been withdrawn or otherwise disposed of within fifteen sitting days, the ordinance shall be deemed to have been disallowed. These tabling provisions are similar to those contained in the Commonwealth Acts Interpretation Act and will be in line with an earlier recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. That committee considers the present provision for tabling Norfolk Island ordinances within 30 days to be unsatisfactory, as it could mean that Parliament rises before it has time to consider an ordinance and the 30 days expire before it is again in session. In those circumstances, of course, opportunity to move for a disallowance would consequently be lost. This provision of the bill complies with the recommendation of the committee to which I have referred.

Opportunity is being taken in the bill to give the " Norfolk Island Government Gazette " formal standing, and for the notification of the making of ordinances to be published in it. This will do away with the present rather archaic practice of posting notices regarding ordinances on or near the Court House, Norfolk Island.

Another change - a small one - concerns the office of Administrator. Previously, the office of Administrator - not the appointment of the occupant - was created under ordinance. Now, it is proposed that it should be created by act of this Parliament, in the same way as in the other Territories. The bill provides that the Administrator, who is charged with administering the government on behalf of the Commonwealth, will be appointed by the Governor-General by commission, will hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General, and will be required to exercise and perform all powers and functions that belong to his office in accordance with the tenor of his commission, and in accordance with such instructions as are given to him by the Minister. The Administrator is at present appointed under an ordinance, and that ordinance makes provision for the appointment of a deputy of the Administrator, but there is no provision for the appointment of an Acting Administrator to perform the functions of the Administrator during his absence or incapacity. This bill now makes provision for the appointment of an Acting Administrator.

A third innovation concerns the courts. The present provision in relation to the organization, jurisdiction and constitution of courts is unsatisfactory. The bill provides for the establishment, for the first time, of a Supreme Court, and for an appeal from the Supreme Court to the High Court of Australia. It provides for Supreme Court practice and procedure and for the establishment and jurisdiction of other courts, not being superior courts, to be covered by ordinance. In passing, I may mention that there is, happily, not enough litigation or crime on the island to occupy the whole time of a judge, and it is intended to continue the system under which the Judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory will also hold a separate appointment as Judge of the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island.

The bill will make provision to enable the Supreme Court to sit outside the island to deal with cases other than criminal proceedings. Such a provision could well save the expense and time of the judge having to go to Norfolk Island to hear an undefended case if the person concerned happened to be in Australia. Such a provision would, however, only be likely to be used on rare occasions. The bill generally incorporates the usual provisions relating to appointment and tenure of judges, acting judges, qualification of judges and oaths of office, which are already in the Norfolk Island Act and which are similar to those in the other Territories. While preserving the Governor-General's power to grant remission of sentences, the bill rewrites this part so as to make it possible to introduce for the first time a code of remission of sentences for good conduct for prisoners serving imprisonment on Norfolk Island. The code remissions will be on the lines of those existing in the Australian States.

In conclusion, may I now refer to some of the lesser modifications of the existing act which the bill proposes to make. There has been some doubt, due to the wording of the existing act, whether a retrospective ordinance may validly be made. The bill makes it quite clear that such an ordinance may validly be made. This is a change, not in the intentions of the act but in the drafting of the act. The bill also makes provision for regulations to be made under the act.

There are also some instances where it is considered that matters at present included in the act might more properly be dealt with by ordinance in order to meet changing local circumstances from time to time. The principal instance of this is the provision relating to the sale and manufacture of alcoholic liquor. It seems to us that this can be dealt with better by ordinance than by an act of the Commonwealth Parliament. On the other hand, some matters which are at present dealt with by ordinance could more properly be covered by an act of this Parliament. An example of this is the provision that the public accounts of Norfolk Island shall be subject to inspection and audit by the Auditor-General for the Commonwealth. This Parliament does vote the large portion of the revenue of the island, and it is quite appropriate that an act of this Parliament should stipulate that the accounts of the island shall be audited by the Auditor-General responsible to this Parliament.

Mr J R FRASER - Will the Minister say whether the act is administered by officers in Canberra who have no right to govern themselves?

Mr HASLUCK - The honorable member is raising controversial matters in territories which are not under my administration.

The present act provides that the GovernorGeneral, or any person authorized by him, may, in accordance with law, make grants or other dispositions of Crown lands in Norfolk Island. The Minister of State administering the Norfolk Island Act 1913- 1935, or any Minister or member of the Executive Council for the time being acting for or on behalf of the Minister of State administering the Norfolk Island Act, has customarily for many years been, under delegation from the Governor-General, granting leases of Crown lands and authorizing the occupation or use of waste lands in Norfolk Island under such a delegation from the Governor-General. The bill will make provision for the Minister to grant leases of Crown lands and to authorize the occupation or use of waste lands in Norfolk Island. In other words, it will do by powers given directly by the new act what has hitherto been done by delegation by the Governor-General. That is a provision quite in line with the general tendency to relieve the Governor-General of administrative detail that he normally does not carry out.

Mr Makin - Does that indicate that any report is to be made to the House on what the Minister does?

Mr HASLUCK - There is an annual Norfolk Island report to this House.

Mr Makin - Would that include that class of information?

Mr HASLUCK - I am not sure whether it would include it in detail, but that information would be available by question or direct application at any time. It is not secret information. It is available to the public.

In commending the bill to the House, I would again emphasize that the only two substantial changes which it proposes are those relating to the creation of a Norfolk Island Council in place of the Norfolk Island Advisory Council, and the provisions in relation to the reconstitution of the Supreme Court. The other clauses of the bill either repeat sections of the existing act or make the minor improvements which I have described. I commend the bill to the House both because it will extend the opportunity of the islanders to share in the management of their own affairs and because it gives a neater and more effective piece of legislation.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.

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