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  • Norfolk Island
  • Chris Nobbs (bio)

In the time since the passage of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015 in the Australian Parliament, Norfolk Island has endured the most tumultuous years since its settlement by the hms Bounty descendants from Pitcairn Island in 1856. That act abolished the limited form of self-government enjoyed by Norfolk Islanders since 1979 as enshrined in the Norfolk Island Act 1979, removed any acknowledgment of the special position of the Pitcairners in regard to their homeland on Norfolk Island, and determined that governmental arrangements henceforth would be based on a New South Wales (Australia) "regional council" model. These moves were made against the express wishes of the great majority of Norfolk Islanders and island residents as expressed in a referendum and were described by internationally recognized human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson qc as "a heavy-handed act of regression" (Robertson 2016).

These legislative actions precipitated the formation of the grassroots organization Norfolk Island People for Democracy (nipd); a petition to the United Nations by the nipd together with the Norfolk Island Council of Elders (coe) for the Island to be listed as a non-self-governing territory under the aegis of the United Nations; and the occupation of the "Tent Embassy" in the grounds of the Old Military Barracks in Kingston, Norfolk's historic precinct and administrative [End Page 184] center. Complaints against the conduct of the Norfolk Island administrator (appointed by the Australian government) became widespread. An account of these and other events of 2015–16 has been given in the pages of this journal (Gonschor 2017). A series of contemporary articles published in the local media outlets the Norfolk Islander and Norfolk Online News is also available in book form (Nobbs 2017).

The year under review has continued to see a high level of political activity both on and off the island, initiated by the coe and the nipd on the one hand and the Australian government on the other. The Australian government's plans were implemented on Norfolk Island on 1 July 2016. In the lead-up to that day, elections for a new Norfolk Island Regional Council (nirc) were held on 28 May 2016. For this election and contrary to previous Island practice, residents who were not Australian citizens (including, in particular, New Zealanders and British) were disenfranchised. The nirc comprises five councilors elected for a term of four years and from whom one member is chosen as mayor, with that position to be held for one year (now amended to two years). At the council's inaugural meeting of 6 July 2016, Ms Robin Adams—a former member and minister in the disbanded Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly—was elected mayor. In a period of continuing transition to new arrangements, the nirc's activities are regulated under the New South Wales Local Government Act 1993, in addition to various Commonwealth Acts and Norfolk Island Acts still applicable to Norfolk Island. Norfolk Islanders have no democratic representation in New South Wales. The Norfolk Island administrator remains overseer of the island in relation to commonwealth (ie, Australian federal) matters.

In July 2016, Australian Senator Fiona Nash was appointed minister for local government and territories and became responsible for Norfolk Island affairs. In the following month, Norfolk Island received a fact-finding visit from an all-party group of parliamentarians from the United Kingdom (UK) House of Commons. Following their visit, the parliamentarians read a public statement into the record of the British House of Commons, reporting that "the Administrator of Norfolk Island … has lost the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the people of Norfolk Island. The current situation is untenable and cannot go on. It is damaging the lives of the people of Norfolk Island as well as the reputation of Australia" (Kawczynski, Sherriff, and Rosindell 2017).

Minister Nash made her first visit to the island on 16–17 September 2016. Major issues discussed with the new council included the provision of electricity services and the role of solar power; waste management; connection to the Hawaiki submarine telecommunications cable system; a waiver on repayment of the commonwealth loan for the resealing of the airport runway carried out in 2006; and possible...