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New legal regime for Indian Ocean islands

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Shadow Minister for Community Services, External Territories and Northern Australia

Media Release


Federal Parliament today rushed through controversial legislation imposing a new legal regime on Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The Shadow Minister for External Territories, Senator Grant Tambling, hit out at the Federal Government, accusing it of "ignorance and arrogance" in its dealings with the islands.

"Islanders were apprehensive about the sweeping constitutional changes proposed by the Territories Law Reform Bill 1992 and wanted more time to look at the day-to-day implications.

"Yet the Federal Government ignored those concerns and forced the controversial Bill through Federal Parliament in a matter of hours."

Senator Tambling said a Senate Committee had received more than 20 submissions criticising the legislation and calling for more community consultation.

"While the Federal Opposition agrees with the need for a new legal regime, we believe that the Bill should have been postponed for at least six months to allow for islanders to be consulted, advised and informed.

"Strong submissions calling for the Bill to be postponed were received from three Muslim Imams on Home Island (Cocos) and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils."

Senator Tambling attacked the islands' federal representative, Warren Snowdon (NT, Labor) for abandoning the people of Cocos and Christmas at a crucial time.

"Mr Snowdon deserted islanders in favour of his Labor mates in Canberra. This was proved today when he failed to address any of the issues recently raised by Islanders in his speech on the legislation in the House of Representatives.

"Mr Snowdon is hypocritical in the extreme. He seeks to be a champion of Aboriginal interests yet fails to apply the same commitment or standards to his Indian Ocean constituents."



Senator Tambling said he would monitor the implementation of the legislation over the next six months and would continue to push for the establishment of a joint working party on constitutional and legal issues.

"Evidence to the Senate Committee this week revealed that some 700 West Australian laws would be applied or modified for Cocos and Christmas and that WA agencies would handle the day-to-day administration.

"Yet, even at this late stage, the matter has not been presented to the WA Cabinet, no agreements have been signed between WA and Federal Departments and there is no complimentary WA legislation in the pipeline."

ENDS Contact: Senator Tambling 06-2773436 Tiz Zeroni 06-2773436