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Norfolk Island: new legal and governance arrangements

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Norfolk Island: new legal and governance arrangements

Posted 2/06/2015 by Cathy Madden

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


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


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


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.