Standing up for Canberra

Reform continues on Norfolk Island

For many years, I've advocated for reform on Norfolk Island. As the island community's federal representative here in parliament, I've been active in ensuring the reform agenda is implemented.

I have been a strong advocate for reform on Norfolk Island because I want equity for Norfolk Island, I want fairness for Norfolk Island and I want the human rights of everyone on Norfolk Island to be respected and ensured. That's why it's vitally important that we implement this reform agenda. It's vitally important that it's implemented by the federal government, that it's implemented by the New South Wales government and that it's implemented by the Norfolk Island Regional Council and, even to some extent, by the community.

The reform agenda is significant in both size and content. Overall, 115 different pieces of legislation were amended in 2015 to enable the changes necessary to ensure Norfolk Island citizens would receive the same treatment as mainland Australians when it comes to social services, education, protections and a range of other areas. A number of Australians don't know the fact that, until these reforms were introduced, until Norfolk Island began the steps to integrate into the Australian system, Norfolk Islanders didn't pay any tax, but they also didn't have a universal health system. Yes, they had a private health system, but it was very quirky and you had to spend quite a bit of money before you actually got any rebate. Yes, they had a pension system, but again it was kind of quirky and there was no equity in who got and didn't get it.

Fortunately, now, Norfolk Islanders are now integrated into the Australian system in many ways. There are still a number of steps that need to be taken to ensure complete integration. But they now receive PBS benefits. They now receive access to Medicare. They now receive the age pension. They now receive Newstart. They now receive the benefits that all Australians enjoy that, due to history and the changes that were made in the late-seventies, unfortunately Norfolk Islanders did not enjoy. They now enjoy those same opportunities and benefits that mainland Australians do.

These legislative changes that began in 2015 initially aligned Norfolk Island's laws with those of New South Wales as part of this integration process. The bill we're discussing today, the Investigation and Prosecution Measures Bill 2017, is another step in this reform agenda, another step towards greater equity on Norfolk Island, another step towards greater fairness on Norfolk Island and another step in ensuring the human rights of all those on Norfolk Island. The bill aligns the legal framework of Norfolk Island with the Commonwealth and expands the functions of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in Norfolk Island. The bill should have far-reaching benefits for the community. In fact, the former Norfolk Island administrator, Gary Hardgrave, is on the record as saying he did a jig when he heard this was coming. The former administrator was a very, very strong advocate of protections and the alignment of legislative frameworks on Norfolk Island with the broader Commonwealth legislation. He was a very strong advocate of protections, particularly child protections. I recently caught up with the former administrator and we had lengthy conversations on the need for legislation of this nature and additional legislation to be introduced. When I contacted the former administrator about this bill, he said: 'The changes are welcomed by most on the island. It will remove any suggestions of corruption, as there have been suggestions and evidence of in the past. It strengthens the Norfolk Island judicial system, and the government should push hard to have the same legal framework on the island as exists in every other small town in the country.'

The bill will ensure the Australian Federal Police, Border Force and other national security agents are equipped to ensure the Norfolk Island community is safe and protected in the future. It will also help the Attorney-General's Department gain an insight into the current judicial system and laws on the island and come to grips with the need to implement comprehensive legislative reform as a matter of priority. This bill will no doubt lead—and it should lead—to a full legislative reform agenda being developed for Norfolk Island. Bringing independent and professional technical expertise into the area of prosecution will benefit island residents who now have every right to expect comparable service delivery and equal protection under the law. This bill gives us pause as we realise the reform agenda for Norfolk Island isn't complete yet, but I'm impressed with the extent of change that has happened on the island so far. Now everyone on the island has access to the PBS, Medicare and Centrelink services. There've been upgrades to the healthcare arrangements and the island is currently in its second year of tax reforms, so people are starting to get tax returns. Superannuation has been introduced. Whilst some significant steps have been made, there's still some way to go and there are still issues when it comes to childcare regulations and rebates.

The Commonwealth has an ongoing responsibility to the Australian citizens of Norfolk Island. I've mentioned those changes in areas that we, on the mainland, take for granted. I genuinely believe reform is having a beneficial impact on all Norfolk Islanders and will protect the human rights and welfare of all the residents through access to opportunity, equality, fairness and, with the implementation of this bill, justice. This amendment is an essential and welcome step in ensuring that a modern standard of service and protection is delivered to Norfolk Island. (Time expired)