Norfolk Island is an external territory of the Commonwealth of Australia located 1676 kilometres northeast of Sydney, and had a population of 1748 in 2016. The Australian Government administers Norfolk Island through the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.
The Norfolk Island Act 1979 (Cth) established a level of self-government on Norfolk Island, providing for a Legislative Assembly, Executive Council, and the Administration of Norfolk Island. Until 2016, the Norfolk Island Government had responsibility for delivering services across the local, state and federal tiers of government. The Norfolk Island Act provided for an Administrator appointed by the Governor-General and reporting to the responsible Australian Government Minister. While Norfolk Island legislation required the Administrator’s assent, the Australian Government’s direct influence over the Norfolk Island Government was limited during the self-government period.
In March 2015, the Australian Government announced comprehensive reforms to governance and service delivery on Norfolk Island. The reforms included the:
- abolition of the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly and Executive Council and the creation of a Norfolk Island Regional Council, which would be responsible for local and municipal matters;
- creation of an interim Advisory Council to offer advice to the Administrator in the period between the abolition of the Legislative Assembly and the creation of the Regional Council;
- application of New South Wales state law to Norfolk Island as Commonwealth law and the extension of Commonwealth laws to Norfolk Island, including laws relating to immigration, biosecurity, the superannuation guarantee and employment; and
- integration of Norfolk Island into the Australian taxation system and the extension of the mainland social security system and health arrangements.
There were significant risks involved with the Australian Government taking on additional responsibilities in a remote location where, similar to the Indian Ocean Territories, service delivery is complex and expensive. ANAO reporting for the 2015–16 financial statements audit reported two significant audit findings in relation the Administration of Norfolk Island, indicating that ‘At the conclusion of the 2015–16 audit, the finalisation of key governance processes and policies by the Administration remained outstanding.’ As Norfolk Island’s new governance and service delivery arrangements began on 1 July 2016, it was timely to undertake an audit focusing on the design, implementation and monitoring of reforms to services on Norfolk Island.