The Mutiny Of Norfolk Island

The history of Norfolk Island is one with a fair amount of breaks—it was originally colonized by East Polynesians but had long been vacant when it was settled as a penal colony offshore from Australia, then vacant again before it was settled by people from Pitcairn Island, a small area of doubtful viability that had been settled by mutineers from the HMS Bounty and their Tahitian hausfraus. For a little more than a century, Norfolk Island, which is inhabited by a couple thousand citizens, and is a fairly remote place with no ports, no railroads, no harbors, no waterways, no income taxes, and only one airport, although with a population of slightly more than two thousand people, its needs are likely fairly limited. That said, Norfolk Island is currently involved in a serious, although not particularly well-known, mutiny over its government by Australia, and the behavior of its deeply unpopular administrator, Gary Douglas Hardgrave [1].

The fight is a fierce one, and it has already gotten dirty. In defiance of the vast majority of voting citizens, Hardgrave has appealed to Australia to revoke the self-government of Norfolk Island on account of budget questions and a belief that the islanders are incapable of self-government. The irate islanders have responded by claiming that Hardgrave has removed historic legislation and documentation from the island, which Hardgrave (perhaps predictably) denies, that he has shut down the island’s only local radio station and denied the islanders free speech, and that he has failed to consult with them or represent their wishes and well-being, and have appealed to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization to be classified as a non-self-governing territory, and have also complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The tension between Australia’s desire to revoke freedoms and the intense freedom-loving nature of the Norfolk Islands appears to be headed for an unpleasant conflict, and it is likely to cause immense bad blood from a territory that is seeking alternatives to Australian rule from the possibility of being a self-governing British Overseas Territory or achieving a belated independence [2].

Australia holds that Norfolk Island has no international status independent of Australia, but simultaneously that it is a self-governing area and therefore not an imperial territory under international opprobrium. The contradiction between those positions, in the face of extreme dissatisfaction by the people of Norfolk Island themselves, reminds us that imperialism is unpleasant business [3]. So, how did Norfolk Island get in such a disastrous position? For one, the island itself pays no income tax and its cash-poor inhabitants cannot afford the land tax, while falls in tourism have crippled their economy, which has no other base. Appeals to Australia for help in helping to build up off-shore banking have fallen on deaf ears, and the result is a struggle between an imperial power out to pretend that it is not an imperial power and an insolvent and isolated island burdened by crippling freight costs and an absence of economic development to pay for its needs, as well as a local government staffed by offshore Australians willing to sell out the freedom of the local population for their own well-being.

What is to be done about such a situation? For one, Norfolk Island is so small and so remote that its plight is not likely to reach the attention of many people. For another, its poverty is a familiar problem faced by many areas. Puerto Rico is an imperial possession of the United States with similar poverty and dependence on tourism, and it cannot balance its books in part because its people are exempt from income taxes and do not make enough money to provide for a solvent government. The same is true for wealthy areas like California as well, whose political worldview has led to an inability on the part of the state to balance its budgets given the desire of its people to keep taxes relatively low. We live in a world burdened by indebtedness, and often with a crippling lack of attention to the infrastructure that makes economic success sustainable, whether for individuals, small self-governing regions, or large countries. What we want often requires some investment, and others are all too quick to point to our struggles as a sign that we are incapable of self-government, when what it really means is that there are often no paths between where we are and where we want to be or need to be, nor a sustainable standard of development, nor a flexibility in options on how to deal with our economic situations.

And so the mutiny of Norfolk Island, while itself a rather small matter to the world at large, is an aspect of larger problems that are felt around the world. They are the same problems faced by individuals who borrow money for education and find that their increased education does not lead to increased income, while the debt must still be serviced anyway. They are the same problems faced by nations which make promises to present and future generations and find that those promises simply cannot be met. They are the problems faced by institutions which have set for themselves missions and purposes and made implied or express covenants with people about expectations of future care that cause immense difficulty between meeting present service obligations as well as care for those who have served so long and so well in the past. Facing these problems is not a sign that one is incapable of self-government, but rather that our world as a whole has gotten beyond control, and that we have failed to behave sane on the large scale, so that our failures to properly deal with societies and institutions has led to the place where individual tragedy appears nearly inevitable, unless some deus ex machina should save us all from ourselves, and from those who would wish to use our own misfortune against us.

[1] See, for example:

As I do not know how long this text will remain on the page before it likely edited or flagged as biased, this is what one particularly irate Wikipedia-editing Norfolk Islander had to say about the unpopularity of Hardgrave on his Wikipedia page on June 8, 2016:

“Since this time, Hardgrave has been heavily criticized by the people of Norfolk Island. The Australian Government abolished of the Norfolk Island’s self-elected Government, which was done on the advice of Hardgrave: stating the people were broke, and no longer capable of looking after themselves.

Due to a large amount of criticism on the local radio station, Mr. Hardgrave used his government appointed powers to “Shut down” the only Radio Station on the island. By doing so, he prevented a large amount of the island voicing their opinion and ability to express ‘free speech’. Now the vast number of advertisements on the Radio station are promotional advertisements for the Australian Government’s services and welfare.

Many of the Historic legislation and documentation which resided on Norfolk Island has since ‘disappeared’ and the people of the Island suspect it was done by Hardgrave, however he out-rightly denied any involvement in the disappearance of the documentation. “The Australian Government did not remove any items of any type nor did we ask anyone to do this. It was as big a surprise to us. Also we did not take remove or disappear Hansard. In fact we sought advice from the Clerk as to what was needed to ensure the records were always best accessible to the public and whether they were best at the local library or school or whatever.”

Hardgrave and his advice to the Australian Government is causing civil unrest on Norfolk Island. The vast majority of the Islands inhabitants are demonstrating against Hardgrave, calling for his immediate removal.

Due to Hardgrave’s inability to effectively consult with the people of Norfolk, or represent them in an accurate manner, the people of Norfolk Island have submitted documentation to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, asking to be classified as a non-self-governing territory.

In 2016, complaints were received by the Australian Human Rights Commission about the decisions and actions of Hardgrave, whilst performing his duties as the Administrator of Norfolk Island.”

See also:

[2] See, for example:

Marks, Kathy (28 October 2013). New Zealand Herald.

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to The Mutiny Of Norfolk Island

  1. Pingback: One Person, One Vote, One Time | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Wait Until They Ask You Who You Know | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Fatal Journey | Edge Induced Cohesion

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