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Islanders occupy government grounds

Saturday 30 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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NORFOLK ISLAND – Protesters against the Australian government’s decision to take control of Norfolk Island are occupying the grounds of the former legislative assembly and refusing to leave.

It is the 227th anniversary of the Mutiny on the Bounty, and many among the protesters are direct descendants of mutiny leaders.

In a restless situation some are likening to the famous mutiny where Captain William Bligh was cast adrift in the Pacific– Norfolk Islanders are calling for the removal of the island’s Australian Government-appointed administrator.

There have been reports of death threats, sabotage and victimisation of locals perceived to be doing the bidding of mainland authorities.

“Today on Norfolk Island our culture is under threat,” John Christian said, a direct descendant of the mutiny ringleader Fletcher Christian.

On the grounds of the island’s former legislative assembly, the group are protesting by occupying the space.

For 36 years the legislative assembly, which was shut down last year by the Australian Parliament, was the centre of the island’s self-government, and occupying it was a spontaneous act of civil disobedience.

Key points:

- Protesters occupy the former Legislative Assembly.

- Demands for the removal of the island’s Australian government-appointed administrator.

- They are angry that the Commonwealth will assume full control of the small external territory on July 1 this year.

The protest was directed against Gary Hardgrave, a former federal Liberal MP, who has been appointed by the Australian Government to act as the island’s administrator during the transition period.

Hardgrave riled the large gathering of islanders by refusing to issue a licence for a protest to be held on ground that they say they consider to be theirs.

The protest went ahead regardless.

The protest meeting – on what the residents call Bounty Day – culminated with a modern-day act of mutiny, with a resolution to deliver a letter of no-confidence to Hardgrave, urging him to get off the island and return to mainland Australia.

“We are providing you with a final opportunity to do the right thing by voluntarily departing,” said Andre Nobbs, the protest organiser from Norfolk Island People for Democracy.

Hardgrave has so far been unavailable for interview about the calls for his removal and the deepening tensions on the island he administers on behalf of Australian taxpayers.

Norfolk Islanders in favour of integration with the mainland have watched on with growing apprehension as the debate over the island’s future has at times become increasingly ugly.

But few have been prepared to comment publicly.

Local hotel owner Mike King said he accepts there is a lot of anger amongst Norfolk Islanders against the change, but the level of uncontrolled anger concerns him.

“I respect everyone’s right to be heard and to protest, but I implore people to properly inform themselves to the background of the whole issue before they do protest,” King said.

“Divisions have occurred in all level of societies on the island and it’s very real, it’s very palpable.

“It’s hurting, there are friendships which have been impacted, which I’m sure will never recover from this – not in my lifetime anyway.”

Norfolk Islanders say the failure to have an amicable dialogue with Australia has prompted them to present a petition to the UN accusing Canberra of violating their right to self-determination.

The petition was delivered on Monday in New York as a last resort after Australia ended the island’s limited self-government.

- ABC