Standing up for Canberra

Norfolk Island Infrastructure Grant Funding

Given the set-up that we have here in the ACT, I imagine that some would question why the member for Canberra is talking about this Private Member's Bill. The reason I do so is that Norfolk Island is part of my electorate. It is a great honour and a pleasure to have Norfolk Island as part of my electorate, and I get up there at least twice a year to talk to the community and hear about their issues.

I commend the role that local governments play and the hard work they undertake to ensure programs, facilities and infrastructure can be delivered to their communities. As the member for Canberra, I have, as I said, the proud honour of representing a community that does actually have a local council, and that is the Norfolk Island community and the Norfolk Island Regional Council.

My involvement in Norfolk Island deepened in 2016. Prior to 2016, Norfolk was part of my electoral division, but it wasn't compulsory for those on Norfolk Island to vote and it wasn't compulsory for them to vote in Canberra. Canberra was the default electorate for them to vote in, but they could choose where to vote. But, since 2016, we've made significant changes, which were supported on a bipartisan basis, to integrate Norfolk Island into the Australian system. Up until these changes, no-one on Norfolk paid tax under the Australian system, but they also didn't get Medicare, the age pension and the PBS. They had their own separate system for a community of 1,500 or 1,600 people. With bipartisan support, and as a result of a bipartisan effort, significant reforms have been introduced to Norfolk Island since 2016 to integrate them into the Australian system. As part of that, it is now compulsory for them to vote in federal elections and to vote in the seat of Canberra.

As part of the reform process, a new local government body was established: the Norfolk Island Regional Council. The council is led by Mayor Adams with the support of her four councillors, General Manager Jackson and her executive team. It's great to work with two strong women fighting for the island's future. I had the pleasure of hosting the mayor and the general manager last week, when they were in Canberra for the local government convention. Unlike local governments across the mainland that have the support of state governments, Norfolk Island's funding model is unique and relies solely on the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, supplemented by federal grant funding. This, needless to say, creates a good deal of uncertainty for the council when it comes to planning projects, because when you're reliant on grants funding can fluctuate.

The council is currently trying to secure funding from the Building Better Regions Fund grants for four projects that, if implemented, will bring significant benefits to the island. The first is an upgrade to the airport runway. At the moment it's uneven. There's a dip which means that, when the planes need to push back for take-off, they need extra power to get the plane over the rut. For an island reliant on tourism, this is very important; this matters. The second project or request for funding is to assist with waste management and sewerage management, which are essential upgrades to essential infrastructure. As you can imagine, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, waste management on an island in the middle of the Pacific is challenging, and Norfolk has a number of challenges on the waste management front. That's why I am very keen for the government to announce, as quickly as possible, this latest round of BBRF funding. Norfolk is desperate to hear the news, particularly in regards to the waste management. The third is an application to fund a communications infrastructure upgrade. There is currently 2G mobile coverage, and the community wants 3G to 4G.

These are just a number of the issues that the island is pushing and advocating for. I do encourage the government, if it is serious about ensuring that Norfolk Island has the opportunity to grow and prosper, as we all do, through this reform process, to please announce these BBRF grants as soon as possible. I know that the people of Norfolk Island are on the edge of their seats in anticipation.