NORFOLK ISLAND – It is coming up to a year since Australia unilaterally removed the island’s autonomy and replaced it with a regional council under the control of New South Wales.
The move angered many, prompting months of protest and appeals for international help.
There have been significant changes made to the lives of Norfolk Islanders and Radio New Zealand asked the mayor and head of the regional council, Robin Adams, how people feel about Canberra’s moves now.
“That would depend entirely on who you are speaking with but I think generally it would be reasonable for me to say that Norfolk Island is endeavouring to move into a brand new world.
“A brand new world where we are coming for the first time into the Australian taxation and social welfare system, having of course had our own system since 1979. So there are big changes happening there.
“What is currently on the table and causing considerable concern in the community is that we are being required to move to valuation based land rating system commencing 1 July 2018.
“This week we have had two public meetings where the community have been addressed by the valuer general for Norfolk Island’s land and it was absolutely evident to all of us present their is absolute concern in this community.
“Because what has to be understood here is that when the Pitcairn community was moved to Norfolk Island in 1856 and all of the Pitcairn families were given 50 acre land grants – that land was regarded and continues to be regarded as heritage land.
“Like throughout the Pacific, there is perhaps a bigger attachment to land than what there might be in Australia as a whole. And to find that now we have to pay land rates and have our land valued for the purposes of rating, is causing a lot of uncertainty in the communities.
RNZI: Communities all across Australia and New Zealand are going to say well the rates are about paying for government services, paying for roads and whatever and that’s valid, surely?
“Yeah, but please understand that since 1856 up until the present day Norfolk Island has managed without that system being in place.
“ But with the changes that have been brought upon us, with the removal of Norfolk Islands government and now having a regional council we have to work under a totally different legal regime.
“ So, yes, it is a learning curve for the community and you know with any change there is always uncertainty and there is a very real concern in the community that if they are unable to pay their rates the land they have held onto since 1856 could very well be lost.
“But yes it is understood, council has to make money in order to provide services to the community. It’s an interesting time.”
RNZI: What sort of rates are people going to be looking at do you think?
“ I couldn’t answer that question because this is the very first time. We now have a valuer general and I have just come out of a meeting with him and other councillors where he was explaining the methodology of how he would go about rating the land but he too has a difficulty that there is nothing to work from.
“There is no platform of rating or categorisation – so it is a totally brand new world for Norfolk Island here but we will get there. It is just part of a huge change from having self-government removed from the community
“And the continuing concern there is, and which I share and am working with the commonwealth to try and resolve, is that by applying New South Wales law to Norfolk Island – we have no representation in NSW, we are not part of NSW, but yet we have a parliament making laws in which we have no say. And that is seen as a democratic deficit.”
RNZI: When you say you are working with the commonwealth, what do you do?
“I am in conversation with the federal minister, Senator Nash, who appreciates the concern and we have in place still a large proportion of Norfolk Islands legislation and I am proposing, with council support, that we find a way to modernise existing Norfolk Island law to mirror NSW law rather than applying NSW law to us, over which we have had no say.
“And trying to put a bit more democracy on the table here, around the law that is going to affect us at state and local level.
RNZI: And what sort of indication are you getting that you might make some progress there?
“There is willingness on the part of the minister to communicate and she had tasked our new administrator, Eric Hutchinson, and I to work together and consult the community around this issue.
“We will have a good conversation, I can’t forecast what the outcome is finally going to be but there is a willingness there to have a conversation and I can’t ask for more than that.
RNZI: Apart from this issue over the rates is the air of animosity that existed, has that lifted?
“I will try to respond to that by saying there is still very much a want for Norfolk Island to have a say in its governance model going forward/
“You will be aware there is a movement that Norfolk Island be listed with the United Nations under their decolonisation arena, and that continues to be progressed, at the international level.
- RNZI/Dateline Pacific
TONGA – Tonga’s culturally and historically important Sia Complex at Popua – the location of Tonga’s creation myth – is being destroyed by an ad hoc development, driven by the same government that pledged to protect the heritage site, Matangi Tonga reports
Latest satellite imagery, made available by the Tonga Heritage Society, shows that not only have canals been dug across the heritage site, but also two new roads have been bulldozed through the area.
In recent weeks a works camp has been set-up on top of one of the same sia – stone mound used for snaring pigeons – that parliament said it would protect – and the top of the sia has been levelled by heavy earth moving equipment.
The Tonga Heritage Society met urgently last week to decide on a plan of action, after recognising that parliament has failed to stand by its decision to protect the site.
“The problem is they think it’s just a pile of stones,” society president Dr ‘Ana Taufe‘ulungaki said. “They don’t understand why it is important.”
The group’s press officer, Shane Egan, pointed out that the main concern is that the Popua site is a complex system, consisting of approximately 14 interconnected mounds of various nature.
“This is a grand scale site – not a single stone mound.”
Shane said that new research this year showed there may be a possible correlation between the layout of the ancient complex of pigeon snaring mounds and walkways on the lagoon edge of Tongatapu and the associated star constellation Mataliki (Pleiades) that was important to ancient Tongan navigators.
He has illustrated this by drawing red rings showing positions of the stars overlaid on imagery of the ancient sia complex.
There remains much to be learned about the complex.
Archaeological research has shown that around 3000-4000 tonnes of sandy fill and 457 tonnes of coral limestone was used in the Popua complex – all moved by hand around 600 to 800 years ago.
Tongan stone artist Sioeli Filipe Tohi, who has previously researched Tongan stone langi under a Creative New Zealand project, is fascinated and impressed by how the Tongan ancestors managed to organise such a project of scale and complexity at Popua.
Filipe is concerned that current works at the site have destroyed the remains of some of the raised walkways that interconnect the many “celestial” Sia that form the complex, simply because the developers show no recognition that they are there.
“Archaeologists, stone masons, architects and artists need to sit down and talk about it and how rebuild it or not rebuild it – and not trying to make it look like something else,” said Filipe.
“I think for me it is really important to understand and to be proud of what our ancestors did. To build buildings here is really sad, this is the heart of Tonga, this is where the beginning of the Tu‘i Tonga and how the culture of Tonga started from. From here where the gods came down, where ‘Aho‘eitu began.”
Tonga’s parliament in August 2015 voted 15-2 to accept a petition signed by 700 people calling for preservation of Tonga’s cultural heritage in the complex of Sia Heu Lupe and related mounds in Popua that are endangered by a settlement subdivision.
At the time strong opposition to the petition was made by the two who lost the vote – one, Mateni Tapueluelu, a local member of parliament (who had celebrated the new land allocations on the exposed reef area), and the other, ‘Etuate Lavulavu, who believed there was no further use for the pigeon snaring mounds.
So it came as a shock to conservationist petitioners when, at a press conference on May 11, the Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva revealed that the same ‘Etuate Lavulavu was now supervising the controversial site works at the Popua heritage site, and that the massive works are being done outside of regular government procurement processes.
Pohiva told reporters that he is managing the project himself using unidentified funding, and that there was no proper procurement process or environmental assessment because, “it slows down the progress of work. So there is no plan, no committee, we just work outside”.
Members of the fledgling Tonga Heritage Society are “shocked and bewildered” by the destruction caused by new works at the site this year.
Dr ‘Ana Koloto, who led the petition in 2015, said last week that she was, “praying for divine intervention because we are dealing with a prime minister who is determined to destroy this heritage site”.
“Obviously the PM had no intention of preserving and safeguarding the Sia Heu Lupe when he and 17 other MPs voted for our petition,” she said.
However, last week the central and most important sia known as “Sia 1” was still standing.
“We must try to save Sia 1 at least,” said ‘Ana.
In 1987 an archaeologist, Dirk Spennemann, proposed four options of action for the Government of Tonga to take regarding the preservation of the Sia Complex.
A: Preservation of the individual sites only (preference 3).
B: Preservation of the main group of sites (preference 2).
C: Preservation of all archaeological sites (preference 1).
D: Unlimited development and gradual destruction of sites (not a preference).
“Unfortunately, despite their promises to the contrary, the Government has chosen option ‘D’ – and a speedy destruction is now upon us,” Egan said, who has collected a history of the site.
“Without the aid of the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging ) imagery Spennemann’s group only recorded a portion of the site.
“Unfortunately, most of that portion he did record is pilfered, buried and lost forever. Three of his four Sia gone and the last and most important is next up to be lost– any day or perhaps yesterday. My visit to the site last week terrified me.”
He also pointed out: “As this indiscriminate digging, filling and clearing is going on around the low-lying tidal zone, the resulting siltation and pollution of the lagoon is a big issue.”
Wendy Pond, an academic, who has written extensively about the Popua site and called attention to its historical importance and biodiversity, is calling for “a review of the process that has allowed the most sacred historical site in Tongatapu to be bulldozed after the government had received a people’s petition and had assured petitioners that the structures would be protected.”
Dr Lea Lani Kinikini Kauvaka Ph.D., a member of Tonga Voyaging Society and a Research Associate at the Institute of Education of USP Tonga, said she was “horrified”.
“Many of the signatories of the 2015 Petition are shocked and saddened at the disregarding of the petition by the prim3 minister and are horrified at the construction of a golf course and canals in a site promised us to be preserved and developed and managed as a heritage site.”
The society believes that professional help from archaeological site specialists is requiredifi any of the Popua Heritage Site is saved as promised.
It says that it is definitely not a job for an unprofessional agency and that “due process must be followed.”
Along with other action, the society is looking at a proposal to declare a Nature and Heritage Reserve where research and restoration could still be done on the cultural sites at Popua.
Oceanic archaeologist Prof David Burley who visited the site in 2015, said the loss of the site and destruction of its features is a tragedy for all Tongans.
“The site is very significant and its precariousness had been recognised and complained about since the 1980s– probably before it was surveyed out here and properties were allocated,” he said.
- Matangi Tonga
TONGA – A Nobles representative has warned Tonga’s prime minister there will be efforts to remove him during the next session of parliament which begins at the end of the week.
While rising seas nibble away at fast eroding shores and saltwater intrudes the thin coral atolls shrivelling crops and contaminating water supplies, the people of Tuvalu are anxiously watching the renewed debate on climate change in the US, writes Radio New Zealand’s Jamie Tahana.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea’s ruling political party made a vow to retain power at the launch of its national election campaign in Port Moresby on Monday.