Sky News Australia, AM Agenda—14 October 2014
Kieran Gilbert: Emotions are running high on Norfolk Island, the remote self-governing territory of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. Its 1700 residents are waiting to hear from the Commonwealth about whether Norfolk Island's unique system of Government will remain. The announcement is expected within the next month from the Minister Jamie Briggs. There's a new administrator—former Howard Government minister and broadcaster Gary Hardgrave who hasn't made that many friends since he began that role on 1 July. Sky News' correspondent Celina Edmonds has just returned from Norfolk Island and she's reported this morning there's been an angry reaction in this normally peaceful place. She spoke to Gary Hardgrave.
Celina Edmonds: Administrator thank you very much for speaking to Sky News, you began your role on 1 July, over the last more than three months now, what's that been like?
Gary Hardgrave: Well, it's been fantastic to live in the second oldest settlement in Australia's history. Six weeks after Captain Arthur Phillip arrived at Sydney cove, his lieutenant was sent here, Philip Gidley King arrived and settled this island. This was at the heart of what kept the early days of Australia going. They grew crops here and they took crops over to Sydney as it was starting to be created, this place was feeding it. So this place—the history about it is something I think too many Australians just don't know enough about. I'd love to see it part of the national syllabus because I thought I knew about history until I got here and I'm embarrassed by my own lack of knowledge now that I know more.
Celina Edmonds: But it's a time of change here, where's that process up to?
Gary Hardgrave: The Norfolk Island Government has been wanting change as well. The people of Norfolk Island listening to what they're saying to me is that they desperately want to be part of the Australian systems of support. And I know I've heard it from the prime minister—that he believes that all Australians, no matter where they are, are able to access things like Medicare and social services and that. You don't get that here and I find that embarrassing and disappointing to think that after so many years of contributions to the Australian story, this area had until recently been saying no stay away, keep all that stuff out of here we'll do our own thing. But they need that help now and I think we should rush to help them.
Celina Edmonds: Will Norfolk Island retain its legislative assembly?
Gary Hardgrave: That's a decision that'll be taken by others. Certainly the system of government here really is a decision that will be taken by others at some stage but what's important to me is that the people on this island get access to the things they need and it's got to be done with dignity. There has to be change, but it's got to be done with dignity. You know, day one, Celina, on day one I said I'm here to work for all of the people of Norfolk Island, the ones who are in this large, fairly silent majority, who frankly are doing it tough. There's some people who are very, very wealthy and they don't want change. They don't want anything to change, but the ones who desperately need that change are turning to me and to others and saying get on with it and all I can do in the job that I hold now is to pass that message onto the Australian Government official.
Celina Edmonds: People here have told me they're concerned that the reform process will change Norfolk Island and what's special about it.
Gary Hardgrave: Gee, I don't see any change to what's special about Norfolk Island happening at all. You know Australia is the most culturally diverse nation on this planet. 200 languages and cultures at work right across the Australian story every day of the week. Nobody's told to give up their culture, nobody's told to give up their language. The challenge to be part of something bigger, to do all the things they are, be who they are for the betterment of Australia and that is a message the prime minister has most recently put again. But it's true, what brings us together is the strength we get from the diversity we have and the diverse culture that is here, this blend of the Tahitian and eighteen century English that make up the Pitcairn's story, the Bounty mutineer descendants that came here in 1836 is certainly part of the Australian story. It's respected by me, it's respected by the Australian Government. It should be known about by more Australians.
Celina Edmonds: People are concerned that they may not be able to sing the royal anthem or the Pitcairn anthem.
Gary Hardgrave: Absolutely they'll be able to sing the Pitcairn anthem, they'll be able to sing the royal anthem but they should also remember that as part of Australia, that the Australian national anthem should be played. It would be very sad to think that when the first ANZAC Day dawn service is held here—anywhere in Australia, it will be the first one, right here next April, that the Australian national anthem should be played—must be played. There are Australian service personnel—men and women who served Australia living on this island, they would expect that. But as far as playing the royal anthem's concerned, I love a good rousing God Save the Queen but we can't forget that the precedent anthem is the Australian anthem.
Celina Edmonds: I was off the plane about 30 seconds and someone told me that you were the most disliked man on the island.
Gary Hardgrave: Well, I'd be surprised because—that someone would have the depth of sentiment but I've grown a thicker skin over the years and what's most important to me is concerning myself about the [audio skip] the people who maybe can't afford an airfare off the island, can't afford to be on a bus who are just simply living from day to day, week to week, trying—off the charity of others, to sustain some sort of dignity and sadly there are people on that island in that category. If I've got to cop on for them, so be it.
Celina Edmonds: And I also had someone say to me that you also have the toughest job now, on this island.
Gary Hardgrave: Yeah, but again, I've grown a thick skin. I wasn't sent here to retire, I was sent to do a job and the job was about reform and the job was to work in a cooperative way with most people on the island. There are going to be a few who have very vested interests about change who don't want to see things changed but they can't prevail, they can't prevail because there's a lot of people here who desperately need the change that is now being talked about it. Change [audio skip] that the Norfolk Island Government have been asking the Australian Government for, for some time.
Celina Edmonds: What's your message to the Chief Minister and the members of the Legislative Assembly?
Gary Hardgrave: Look, right now, they have to make some decisions and it's not me to necessarily give them public advice. I promised them from the beginning I'd stay out of day to day public debates but as they meet and as they deliberate their conduct and the words they choose, I think people want leadership and I [audio skip] people want a little understatement rather than overstatement, in a media sense, not to beat it up, not to overstate their emotion. If somebody has to put it another way, I've had a few people say this to me that perhaps it's a case of putting the welfare of the people on the island ahead of their own political careers and that's up for them to decide if that's how they want to respond.
Celina Edmonds: So, what does Norfolk Island need?
Gary Hardgrave: Norfolk Island needs some confidence, it needs a strategic and economic plan to grow that confidence and I hope, in time, it'll defeat what many, sadly, on the Australian mainland believe and that is this is a no-go zone for investment. What it desperately needs is for—some confidence to not only be in this community but across Australia, that this is a place to invest. Right now that confidence isn't there and I hope if, after my time here, we can have a change of that where people actually want to start to sink some dollars into this marvellous place, to grow its economy by new and fresh and private sector capital here, creating more jobs and I think there's going to be a lot of happier people and the wealth will spread a lot further than it currently does.
Celina Edmonds: Administrator, I do thank you very much for speaking to Sky News.
Gary Hardgrave: Thanks Celina.