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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1827

Mr LAVARCH(4.19 p.m.) —-I join with my colleagues who served on the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in producing the report Islands in the Sun. I welcome the Government's response to the Committee's report. However, I would have to say that I do share largely in the concerns raised both by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Kerr) and the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) about some aspects of the Government's response. I would describe the Government's response to the Committee's report as prudent and cautious. However, I think on a number of matters it has probably strayed too far on the side of caution rather than taking some decisions which are very long overdue and may, at least in the instance of Norfolk Island, gather some local opposition but which I think, nonetheless, are necessary decisions and ones which are well argued and well supported by the Committee's report and recommendations.

In relation to the islands in the Indian Ocean, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island, I welcome the fact that the recommendations of the Committee have been taken up by the Government. The fact that there is now a definite time frame set down for the application of Western Australian law to both those territories I think is probably as good a result as could be obtained. There needs to be a reasonably comprehensive process gone though to decide which laws from Western Australia should apply. Certainly the vast bulk of the law of Western Australia will be able to be applied without any difficulty at all but there will be some instances where it will need to be modified.

The Government has set something like a year from its response to when that will happen. Maybe that is a bit long but at least there is a definite date now which the Commonwealth is working towards. That gives the residents of those islands some certainty; they know what their position is going to be. Certainly both the Committee's report and the Government's response to that report are consistent with the administrative arrangements which have been entered into, particularly on the Cocos Islands. On the whole, I think the Government's response in relation to those two territories is quite satisfactory.

In relation to Jervis Bay, I merely endorse the comments that have been made by the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). I do not see any reason at all why Jervis Bay should continue to be part of the Australian Capital Territory. Its reason for being part of the ACT has long since past; it is not going to be developed as a national port to serve the national capital. The residents of Jervis Bay oppose any idea of the territory being incorporated into New South Wales, and I can understand why. The level of services being provided to those residents is much higher than is generally enjoyed by communities of similar size in any of the Australian States, so it is only natural that the local residents there view with some concern the idea that Jervis Bay may become part of the State of New South Wales.

Be that as it may, and although that is a natural reaction on the part of those residents, that is no reason at all why the Government should tread so cautiously in its response in this matter. What does the Commonwealth really want to protect in relation to this territory? I think that the concerns of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community can be adequately addressed and that there will be sensitivity in areas such as the police because the evidence before the Committee was that there was a very good relationship between the Australian Federal Police serving that community and the Aboriginal community. In that sense it is a model that could be looked at by the rest of Australia, and I think it is to be commended.

However, that in itself is no reason for the Commonwealth to say that it should be keeping its hands on Jervis Bay. There have been other reasons advanced over the years why the territory should remain with the Commonwealth. At one stage there was thought of some nuclear reactor being established in the territory.

Mr Simmons —-A long time ago.

Mr LAVARCH —-Yes; those days are long gone. I do not believe that is likely to occur. On balance, there really is no reason in principle at least why that territory should not become part of New South Wales. There was some concern expressed about the policies of the neighbouring council of Shoalhaven, particularly with its environmental policies. Again, maybe that is a legitimate concern for local residents to have, but many local residents and communities throughout Australia also have concerns about the environmental policies being pursued by their local council. By no means should the Commonwealth walk away from protecting the interests of the environment in Jervis Bay. That can be a matter on the table for the discussions with the State of New South Wales about the ultimate incorporation of the territory into that State. I simply reinforce the point made by my two colleagues that any fair examination of the evidence that the Committee took publicly from residents and the various departments and authorities involved leads one inevitably to the conclusion that Jervis Bay should be incorporated into the State of New South Wales.

In relation to Norfolk Island, the Committee in its visit there experienced very strongly the views of the Norfolk Islanders, particularly those of Pitcairn Island descent. They made it very clear to us that they viewed even the fact that the Committee was holding the inquiry as being an intrusion into their affairs. The Committee did not approach it with any attempt to override the level of independence which we have seen develop on Norfolk Island--quite the opposite. It was the Committee's view that the process of independence on that island should be enhanced. We went about examining the various issues before us in relation to Norfolk Island with the aim of enhancing the process of self-determination and self-government.

That is no reason why the citizens of Norfolk Island should be denied the same basic rights and responsibilities which are afforded to all Australians; in particular, I refer to the right to vote. The Committee came up with a solution which will place Norfolk Islanders in a unique position; that is, they will be the only Australians able to choose whether they enrol themselves to vote in a Federal election, though having chosen to enrol, voting will become compulsory.

I was delighted when the Government took up that particular recommendation because it was one which attracted a fair bit of criticism from the island. I think all honourable members received some representations from a Mr Ric Robinson, amongst others, from the island, saying that they considered this to be the thin edge of the wedge. However, the Government examined the Committee's report and, I am very pleased to say, was in support of that particular recommendation. The Minister for the Arts, Tourism and Territories (Mr Simmons) has been kind enough to pass a letter to me written by an islander, a Mr Fitzgibbons. He has applauded the Committee's recommendation in relation to voting rights. In fact, he has described this particular recommendation as being in Solomon-like terms.

Mr Simmons —-Well deserved.

Mr LAVARCH —-It is a very rare tribute for a member of parliament to be compared with Solomon. I take that compliment from the Minister, that it is well deserved, on behalf of all the Committee. But Mr Fitzgibbons is one of a large number of residents on Norfolk Island who wants the right to vote and believes it is a right, as an Australian, that they should enjoy. Even though I concede this may not be a majority view on Norfolk Island, I think the response of the Committee and the Government is to be applauded.

In respect of a range of other recommendations on Norfolk Island, the Government has adopted some and has been a little bit more cautious on others. On the whole, I support what the Government is proposing to do on Norfolk Island. It is a territory which has gained a large degree of independence and self-government. That process is to be encouraged. It is the role of the Government and of this Parliament to have a monitoring brief to make sure that basic rights and privileges are being enjoyed. Provided that is so, then the Government should largely leave well enough alone. I am happy enough with the Government's response in this area. On the whole, I applaud what the Government has done and I will now allow the Minister the opportunity to make some closing remarks.