Norfolk Island 2022 visit

"I would like to take the opportunity tonight to thank all members of the Norfolk Island community for making us feel welcome and for sharing your concerns and views with us."

Address to the House of Representatives, Adjournment Debate - Norfolk Island

Monday 21 November 2022

Last week I visited a part of the electorate of Bean that more Australians should be aware of and should consider visiting: Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island is 1,800 kilometres from the rest of Bean, and our visits over the last two years have been stymied by COVID—not so last week. Last week was a particularly busy week on Norfolk Island, when I visited the community with the federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, the Queensland Minister for Education, Senator David Pocock and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works.

I started my visit by meeting with the council of elders. The councillors are senior members of the community of Pitcairn Islander descent. It was a warm welcome, but they also made it clear that they wanted further action on restoring Norfolk Island's democratic voice, a fair and sustainable rating policy and progress on a solution to the island's shipping issues—issues that were raised consistently during our time on Norfolk Island. Later that evening I caught up with some members of the community that shared concerns about the state of the reef and the impact on marine life, including Doris the turtle, a social media star in her own right.

The following day I met with the Norfolk Island Law Association and the tourism association, and participated in a public forum on shipping, hosted by the federal minister for territories, Kristy McBain. Shipping and, consequently, the cost of freight is a significant challenge due to the remoteness of the island and due to changes in both local and global shipping that have seen a damaging reduction in services to the island. I can assure members of the community that the minister is focused on solutions and is working with the community, operators and the department to find a solution to freight, and she appreciated the feedback on other matters of concern raised by the community.

On Tuesday, with Minister Kristy McBain and Queensland Minister for Education Grace Grace, I visited Norfolk Island Central School after meeting representatives from the P&C. I met with the school captains and school staff, toured the school with the executive and even sang along with prep. The school community has done well, particularly with the challenges of the last few years with the transition of the school from the New South Wales system to the Queensland system. Teachers, staff, students and their families have done well to work with both systems and the uncertainty that, at times, has come with this change. It was really good to see two governments working together for the local community through the intergovernmental agreement.

With Minister McBain, we talked to a number of small business operators in Burnt Pine, the island's business centre. It was clear that, while tourism is rebounding well, freight is an issue that affects all. Later that day I met with local firefighters in relation to their fight for fair pay and conditions, the need for better training opportunities, and their ongoing challenges with PFAS levels and the implications that might be there for the broader community. They need our support.

On Wednesday I was joined by colleagues of the parliament's public works committee for site visits in the Kingston historical heritage area, an area that dates to the First Fleet; to the Cascade Bay and Ball Bay areas to provide context to the freight challenges; to the key health facility on the island; and to the special national park, which requires significant roadworks. Thank you to the members for Moreton, Makin and Pearce for taking the time to visit the island. On Thursday we wrapped up the visit with a mobile office at the excellent Olive Cafe.

I would like to take the opportunity tonight to thank all members of the Norfolk Island community for making us feel welcome and for sharing your concerns and views with us.

I really encourage any members of the broader Australian community who have not visited Norfolk Island to do yourself a favour and book a holiday there. The history of the island is so significant that it has attracted World Heritage listing, and the environment is so unique that it has a Commonwealth national park across the third of the island and a marine area so important that it's protected by a Commonwealth marine park surrounding the island. I'm happy to also report that there is a growing local produce sector, including a local brewery. Those MPs, senators and ministers who visited last week all know that there is much to do and there are still challenges, but we are determined to keep working with the community to land the solutions. And, Mr Speaker, you would be most welcome to join us on a future visit.