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Norfolk Island's relationship with Australia

The history of Norfolk Island's relationship with Australia is scattered with actions that are at best headscratching and at worst immoral and illegal. Australia has gathered more and more of the island to itself - wiping out Norfolk culture and robbing the islanders of their birthrights.

In 1856 Her Majesty Queen Victoria's Order-In-Council declared that Norfolk Island was to become a distinct and separate settlement; the affairs of which be administered by the Governor of the Colonies of NSW and Norfolk Island. Her Majesty's instructions to the Governor were that he should preserve the Pitcairner's laws and usages including those relating to the possession, use and enjoyment of land. Today the islanders have to apply to the Australian Administrator for permission to put a driveway onto a road.

The Pitcairners were advised that Norfolk was to be theirs to divide as they wished, but in the years following their arrival this promise was reneged upon and they succeeded in gaining title to only a quarter of the island's land. This was the first of many promises broken by those with the power of administering Norfolk Island.

In 1896 the promise of self-government was reneged upon. The Governor of the day, Viscount Hampden, sailed from New South Wales (where he had decided that the islanders were incapable of governing themselves) and upon his arrival on Norfolk he read a prepared speech abolishing all the Laws of Norfolk Island and proclaimed new laws transferring all authority to New South Wales. He also removed the island's Chief Magistrate - the traditional head of the government - and made it an appointed position never again to be held by an islander.

In 1908 the Norfolk Islanders living in Quality Row (a street in Kingston) were evicted from their homes of 52 years by Governor Harry Rawson when they refused to sign lease documents saying that their homes were the property of the Crown. The Crown, of course, did not own the land. In a rare display of defiance the evicted islanders burnt down some of the houses. The Australian Government still perpetuates the myth that the islanders were evicted because they burnt down the houses.

In 1935 the Australian Government enacted, by virtue of their power of administration, the Norfolk Island Printers and Newspapers Ordinance. This made it illegal to publish any newspaper, newsletter or pamphlet without the approval of the Australian Administrator. This ordinance remained in force for 29 years: effectively banning free speech on the island - a right the islanders had, until 1935, put to good use in making known their unhappiness with the Administrator's treatment of island affairs.

In 1948 the Australian Government passed a law forcing Norfolk Islanders to discard their British Passports and apply for Australian ones. Norfolk was, and is, a Colony of the British Crown. The residents of Norfolk Island were not Australian citizens, but were forced, without consultation, to become so.

The ludicrousness of Norfolk Island's position in relation to Australia is nowhere more obvious than in the following. In 1957 the Australian Parliament passed the third of its Norfolk Island Acts. It repealed the Acts of 1913 and 1935, but failed to make provision for the continuance of the section by which it accepted authority over Norfolk Island. The result is that for almost 40 years, Australia has enforced laws in relation to Norfolk Island's administration which have no constitutional basis.

During the 1970s a number of geological reports were issued concluding that the waters around Norfolk Island have a 95% chance of containing natural gas and/or crude oil at commercially viable depths. The Australian Government acted quickly to claim, as its own, Norfolk Island's 200-mile economic zone. Under what power this claim was made is a mystery.

1979 saw Australia pass the fourth of its Norfolk Island Acts. The 1979 Act provided for limited self-government, the continuance of which is dependent upon Norfolk Island supporting itself from its own resources. Norfolk has remained debt-free since the arrival of the Pitcairners and continues this tradition today - despite Australia selling and pocketing the fishing rights in Norfolk's territorial waters: an amount the Australian Government will not disclose, but in all likelihood is more than $1 million annually. During the 17 years since limited self-government was granted, more public works have been completed on the island than during the whole time Australia enforced its autocracy.

The Norfolk Island Act reserves many powers to the Australian Government, which promised to release them within five years to the Government of Norfolk Island. Another promise broken - 17 years later and Australia still retains much of what it promised to release.

In 1987 an Australian Government advisory committee reported to the Australian Government Norfolk Island's wish to have a "free association" status with Australia, whereby Australia would retain the powers of external affairs and defence. The report also outlined the method by which this could be achieved under the Australian Constitution. In 1991, however, the Australian Government took the opposite tack and announced that Norfolk was to be incorporated into the Australian Federal electorate of Canberra. Strenuous objections by the Norfolk Island Government and two referenda with 82% and 80.2% of votes against the Australian Government's proposal were dismissed by the Australian Government as "irrelevant".

1994 saw the Pitcairners declare themselves as the indigenous people of Norfolk Island and the discovery of their genetic uniqueness. Australia today denies that Norfolk has an indigenous population; yet at the same time it has no accepted definition of indigenousness. The Australian Government also denies that the Pitcairners are a separate and distinct people, even in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary - the Pitcairners of Norfolk Island can only receive successful organ transplants from another Pitcairner.

The Australian Government perpetuates the myth that Norfolk Island is part of Australia by constantly declaring that it is so, without any foundation in fact. It is not. The myth is perpetuated even on the island itself, where the Australian Government, which has responsibility for the educational curriculum, sets essay topics such as "Why I am proud to be an Australian." This is part of Australia's declaration that is it dedicated to "strengthening the Australian identity in the external territories." As far as the Pitcairners of Norfolk Island are concerned, Australia's declaration is a dedication to bloodless genocide.


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