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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr COPE (Watson) .- Like the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Lindsay), the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), I was honoured to be selected as a member of a delegation to represent the federal Government at the Norfolk Island centenary celebrations. The celebrations marked the one hundredth anniversary of the transfer of the descendants of the " Bounty " mutineers from Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island. The occasion also marked the first visit to the island by a representative body of parliamentarians. Before proceeding to give my personal views and observations, gained during my visit, 1 wish to express my thanks and appreciation to the people of Norfolk Island for the hospitality and cordiality shown to us during our stay, and also to express many thanks to Mr. McCarthy, of the Department of Territories, for his untiring efforts in leaving no stone unturned to see that satisfactory arrangements were carried out.

The views that I shall express are noi intended as adverse criticism of the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), because I think that both he ' and the department are earnest in their endeavours to do the right thing for the island and its people. Rather do I offer my views as constructive criticism which, I hope and trust, the Minister will consume as food for thought. I intend to confine my remarks to the following headings: First, Norfolk Island and its potentialities; secondly, the great importance of the island to Australia; and. thirdly, the very many vexed problems confronting the island in relation to its future welfare.

Norfolk Island is about 1,000 miles northeast of Sydney and about 600 miles north of New Zealand, in the South Pacific Ocean. It enjoys probably the best climate in the southern hemisphere, with the temperature very rarely exceeding 80 degrees, and very seldom below 45 degrees. It is a very beautiful spot, and possesses safe swimming and other recreational facilities, lt also possesses many landmarks and other items of interest associated with its early days as a penal settlement. Because of these facts. I consider that it offers tremendous potentialities as a leading tourist resort. Instead, the number of tourists to the island is rapidly declining. For example, in 1952, 1,217 tourists visited the island; in 1953, 1,467; in 1954, 1,168; and, in 1955, the number dropped to 665. I believe that the fall-off in the tourist trade can be attributed to a lack of initiative by the Administrator in providing the sum of only £104 as a means of attracting tourists. I leave to the imagination of honorable members the value of the publicity that could be gained by the expenditure of £104 a year.

I now refer to the great and valuable importance of Norfolk Island to Australia.

The island has a first-class grass airstrip, which was built and used by our American allies during World War II. Because of its geographical position, the island proved to be of immense value during hostilities in the Pacific. It also has a very valuable line of communication in the form of a modern cable station. The people of Australia owe a great debt to this cable station and its employees, because, in association with the station at Suva, it located the Japanese task force in the Coral Sea which resulted in a smashing defeat of the Japanese navy by the allied forces, and, as we all know, that defeat was really the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

I shall confine the remainder of my remarks to the people of Norfolk Island, and to their local problems. The problems and difficulties encountered by the people are the main causes of the dwindling population. For example, in June, 1953, the island had a population of 1,163, and now the population has dropped to approximately 800 persons. The islanders are frustrated people, who believe that they are being completely neglected by the ruling powers at Canberra. They are not entitled to social services benefits nor to workers' compensation, and they are not paid award rates for any work that they perform. Except for a local tax which is to maintain roads and other public works, they do not pay income tax, but I am sure that these people are looking forward to the day when they will be placed on the same basis as the people of- Lord Howe Island and Australia, and pay taxes, receive social services benefits and are paid wages similar to those prevailing in Australia.

As an illustration of unfairness to the people because the social services system is not operating on the island, I shall detail a case which was related to me. lt concerns a man who is 80 years of age. I believe most honorable members will agree that any person of that age should be retired on a pension and should not be obliged to work for a living. This elderly gentleman was employed as a labourer, and during the course of his work he was injured by a log rolling on his leg. The injury eventually necessitated the amputation of portion of the leg, yet he did not receive any social services payments or compensation for the injury.

In regard to wages, the driver of the car which we used during our stay on the island, a Mr. Charles Evans - an islander - informed me that he was a carpenter by trade and was employed on the erection of a whaling station on the island. He received a wage of £13 10s. a week. As honorable members will recognize, that wage is several pounds a week less than the award rate in Australia, and I emphasize that the all-round cost of living on Norfolk Island is similar to that in Sydney.

The most important complaint among the islanders is that they are denied the right to manage their local affairs. It is perfectly true to say that there is an advisory council of eight, elected on a ward system by popular vote, but any resolution of the council which it deems fitting for the progress and welfare of the island, can be vetoed by the Administrator. This conflicts with our Australian ideals of democracy. As an illustration of the unrest among the people I desire to quote from the report of the Norfolk Island Progress Association dated May 1956. It is as follows: -

Our council has done its very best under frustrating conditions, to obtain a helpful suggestion towards achieving control of local affairs, and the removal of the existing Ward system, but with no action from Canberra.

Essentials, such as we have mentioned, and a Democratic form of pension scheme, should come before the ridiculous cost of the present bureaucracy for so small a population. It is a case of more and more taxpayers' money being spent for less and less of what the taxpayer wants.

Over the last few years we see only a steady decline in prosperity and population. The past years have certainly proved the ghastly failure, from an economic and social point of view, of a virtual dictatorship supervised from Canberra.

When are we to be offered a helping hand to commence controlling our own affairs without a top-heavy Administration?

I conclude my remarks by suggesting that the Minister should bear three points in mind and give them earnest consideration. They are, first, to give every support to all methods of advertising the island as a tourist centre; secondly, as this island would be of great strategic importance to Australia in the event of war, it is essential to keep the population intact, and that can be done only by keeping the people happy and contented; and thirdly, to give the people of Norfolk Island local autonomy, which will create initiative and instil in them a keen sense of responsibility.

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