Norfolk Island’s 2210 residents – many of them descendants of mutineers from HMS Bounty – have presented a petition to the United Nations accusing Australia of trying to “re-colonise” their tiny South Pacific island.
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson flew to New York from London to deliver the petition on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to help Norfolk retain its status as an autonomous territory.
The Australian government signalled last year it would end the island’s local administration, and has already closed down its parliament, paving the way for rule from the Australian capital Canberra, nearly 2000 km away.
A regional council is planned and elections are scheduled for the middle of next year.
The volcanic island covers just over 34 square km in the Pacific Ocean, between New Caledonia and New Zealand.
It was mapped by the British navigator and explorer Captain James Cook in 1774, and was occupied just 40 days after he established a convict settlement in Sydney in 1788.
I can’t believe this is Australia-Gov’t taking the extraordinary step of banning criticism of Australia on #NorfolkIsland radio station. No!
— Helena Sindelar™ (@Helena_Sindelar) April 26, 2016
Robertson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from New York on Monday that Australia’s “heavy-handed attempt to re-colonise part of its domain” is internationally embarrassing as it coincides with its campaign to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“They’ve locked up the parliament and sent administrators from Canberra to run the place, even though it’s been running itself perfectly well for a long time,” he said.
“After 36 years of democracy, their self-governance has been abolished, their freedom of speech curtailed – any mention of opposition on a local radio station has been banned – and their membership of international sporting and political bodies like the Commonwealth has been cancelled.”
In Australia Paul Fletcher, minister for major projects, territories and local government, said Norfolk Island had been an integral part of the Commonwealth of Australia since 1914.
“The Australian Government is ultimately responsible for the governance of Norfolk Island – as it has been for more than a century – and for the welfare of all Australians including those that comprise the majority of the Norfolk Island community,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
“The Australian Government established what was effectively an experimental form of self-government on Norfolk Island in 1979. The result of this experiment is clear – it has not worked very well.”
Norfolk Islanders are themselves divided about the plan to abolish self-rule, with the descendants of Fletcher Christian’s mutineers leading the resistance campaign.