Catherine McCoy is a seventh generation Norfolk Islander. She never expected to face homelessness on the island she has called home all her life.
Ms McCoy said that since open immigration to the island from Australia was allowed in 2016, she had struggled to find stable accommodation suitable for both her and her son, who lives with a disability.
She said she was finally able to stay in a house at a much reduced price, thanks to the generosity of a local who no longer lived on the island.
“If it wasn’t for this wonderful local, I wouldn’t have had a home. I was trying to find homes for my couple of cats…and I was going to shoot them until I found this home,” she said.
Ms McCoy said islanders like her had struggled with a range of issues over the past few years – from housing affordability to shipping delays, leading to food shortages – but many of those who call the island home island also felt that no one listened to their grievances.
Located approximately 1,700 kilometers off the east coast of Australia, Norfolk Island is renowned for its pristine coastlines and as an ideal tourist destination.
But in this upcoming election, residents must vote for a candidate based about 2,000 kilometers away in the Bean constituency.
Delivery delays drive up the cost of living
Geoff Bennett owns and runs a supermarket on Norfolk Island, and said shelves have been left bare several times over the past two years due to shipping delays.
He described the food crisis as “devastating” for locals and tourists and said not being able to speak with someone on the ground about the shortages only made the situation worse.
“The economy is collapsing, our businesses are struggling, the cost of living is rising exponentially because without ships we have to fly a lot of stuff,” he said.
“Air freight is around $5 a kilo and if you have 3-5 tons of milk, each liter costs $5 freight on top of the purchase price you would have.
“So that leads to an exponential increase in the cost of living index.”
This increase in the cost of living is felt by people like Ms McCoy, who cares for her son full time and relies on Centrelink.
“It doesn’t really make ends meet when you have to try and pay half of that just for the rent. And then you go and buy the groceries for two weeks, and those groceries have come home “, she said.
Mr Bennett said that in addition to locals, food shortages were also impacting Norfolk Island’s tourism industry.
Mr Bennett said while islanders had offered solutions to the problem, international shipping laws prevented ships from delivering food and supplies from Brisbane.
“It’s this kind of bureaucratic nonsense that drives this community crazy. Because we can see the difficulties, but we can also see the solutions,” he said.
In a statement, the shipping company that serves Norfolk Island said it had experienced delays but had recently started deliveries from a new barge.
“More recently the disruption has been the result of the lack of relief service to Norfolk, which underpins our ability to provide regular service to the island,” the company said.
“[We] are committed to providing sustainable, long-term supply chain solutions for Norfolk Island and want to play a part in decisions about the infrastructure and government spending that will enable this.”
Local member thousands of miles away
While the Queensland State Government oversees the provision of certain services on the island, such as healthcare, aged care and education, Norfolk Island is unable to access to state subsidies because it is not under any state or territorial jurisdiction.
The Federal Representative for Norfolk Island is the MP for Bean – based in the ACT – who locals say is also contributing to them not getting the attention they need for the daily challenges they face confronted.
Bean’s current MP, Labor David Smith, visited the island once in 2019 at the start of his role.
He said he has since encountered difficulties getting to the island due to COVID-19.
But he agreed there were issues to be resolved on Norfolk Island.
“There is a lot of work to be done with the Norfolk community. This includes improving telecommunications, a sustainable freight solution as well as addressing local infrastructure issues,” he said.
And Mr Smith said, as the island’s current MP, he supports residents having a greater say in the day-to-day issues that affect them.
“We also recognize that a financially sound and administratively sound island is imperative.”
Why doesn’t Norfolk have local democratic representation?
In 2016, Norfolk Island was incorporated as an external Australian territory after receiving a government bailout following the global financial crisis.
Previously, the island maintained its autonomy as an external territory, with its own legislative assembly.
As part of his compromise for independence; Norfolk got a local regional council with five elected councillors. But the council struggled financially and was disbanded in December 2021 following an investigation by WA MP Nola Marino.
The investigation revealed that the local council had mismanaged the funds and trustee Michael Colreavy was appointed to oversee local affairs. for a period of three years.
In a press release, Territories Minister Nola Marino said Mr Colreavy was to remain a trustee until 2024, but it was possible the council could be reinstated before then.
Mr Colreavy said he often hears complaints from locals about their lack of local representation.
“The council was removed from office because it had run out of money and was seeking a bailout from the Commonwealth.”
Mr Colreavy said if the problems had not arisen in the first place the council would not have been disbanded.
“But a period of calm and better financial and budgetary management had to be put in place here to bring the council back to a sound financial position. That is why this administration is in place.”
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