On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories I present the committee's report on the visit to Norfolk Island, on 29 and 30 April 2013, together with the minutes of proceedings, and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.
The committee visited Norfolk Island very briefly from 29 to 30 April this year. It followed up on a visit made in May 2011 and was to assess how Norfolk Island was managing under the road map that was introduced in December 2010 by the former minister for territories, Simon Crean.
Many people know about the challenges faced by Norfolk. They are many and varied. Essentially, they are in a pretty difficult situation. The recent economic situation has shown a real deterioration there. Economic activity, as of September 2012, was down 20 per cent on the previous year, about 40 per cent of shops had closed, about 25 per cent of the male population aged between 25 and 50 had left the island since August 2011, the overall population had dropped by 9.4 per cent since August 2011 and tourism trends had been variable throughout the year.
We were keen to go and get an assessment of how things are going, because the road map that was introduced by the minister in 2010 involved a great deal of reform to the central underpinnings of a strong and sustainable economy and society. There were reforms in governance, reforms in financial management, reforms in FOI and reforms in transparency.
During our visit, the purpose of which was to examine recent progress under the road map, expectations of further progress and the current state of Norfolk Island's economy and government finances, we held discussions with the Administrator, Commonwealth Finance Officer, Chief Secretary, the Norfolk Island government that had just been elected in March this year, members of the assembly, CEO of the Norfolk Island administration, representatives of the Norfolk Island Chamber of Commerce and Government Tourist Bureau, the Accommodation and Tourism Association and representatives of a variety of women's and social welfare groups. During my own visits to the island as well as those of the committee, we have always been keen to connect with the social, community and local women's groups to get a sense of what is actually happening on the ground. The committee found its brief stay on Norfolk Island worthwhile. We thank all those who met with the committee, particular the new Administrator there, the Hon. Neil Pope, and his staff.
The focus of our discussions was to get a readout on where things stood with the road map, a readout of where the economy was at and a readout of where the governance arrangements were at. But we were also keen to focus on what Norfolk Island were doing in the area of revenue raising. The ultimate aim of the road map is to get the underpinnings in place to allow Norfolk Island to integrate with the Australian tax system and so get the associated benefits—health services, Medicare, PBS and a range of other services. But it is a journey along that road and a number of elements need to be put in place before we can reach that point. We were therefore keen to get an understanding of what Norfolk Island were doing, given that they are in this difficult economic situation, to put in place the revenue-raising vehicles needed to underpin and sustain their economy. So a lot of our focus was on revenue raising, particularly on the notion of municipal rating or land rates.
We came up with a number of observations during the visit. The main thing we are keen to underscore is the fact that the Norfolk Island government maintains its commitment to the road map and to the fulfilment of its obligations under the road map. We believe that they are an essential requirement of Norfolk Island's success and progress.
We made just one recommendation following our visit. We recommended that the commitment of the Norfolk Island government and the Australian government to reform should be documented in a joint statement and timetable. This timetable should document the legislative changes required of both the Norfolk Island and Australian governments to improve governance and administration and to integrate Norfolk Island into the Australian taxation and welfare system. Any timetable should be predicated on the Norfolk Island government introducing its own revenue streams, such as municipal rates, reforming its immigration system and divesting its government business enterprises.
In closing, I again thank all those who met with the committee. I also thank my fellow committee members, who have taken a longstanding and keen interest in Norfolk Island. I particularly thank the secretariat for the work they did in organising our visit, in conjunction with the Administrator, and in writing the report.