Royal commission into matters relating to norfolk island

Chapter 12 GUIDELINES (e) AND (f)

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Chapter 12


(e) ‘Whether social security, health, educational, compensation and other benefits should be provided at levels similar to those which Australian Citizens enjoy’

(f) ‘The capacity and willingness of the Island to pay through taxation or other imposts fro the provision of those benefits’

1.The present situation

  1. Social services

In the Island at the present time, social services are in the main provided by voluntary organisations, the organisations fulfill an important role and are in fact a notable and very praiseworthy feature of the social environment. In the absence of more formal provisions, they meet a very real need. Set out hereunder is a brief summary of the bodies concerned and their chief interests:

Country Women’s Association of N,S.W, (Norfolk Island Branch)

  • General assistance to groups and individuals,

Hospital Board (Statutory)

  • All activities of the hospital and related facilities,

Lion’s Club

  • Community welfare.

Red Cross

  • Relief of suffering, emergency aid etc.

Rotary Club

  • Community welfare,

Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme

  • Child care and health generally but especially aid relating to specialist medical attention,

Sunshine Club

  • Assistance to elderly citizens,

Young Wives and Mothers Club

  • Baby health, pre-school education and play, antenatal classes.

Youth Council

  • Fostering the physical and intellectual development of youth,

To finance their activities, all these groups raise money in the Island in a variety of ways ranging from the sale of goods and services to the acceptance of donations Their existence therefore facilitates a type of voluntary redistribution of income which is directed to group and individual needs

In addition the Norfolk Island Council dispenses a type of ‘grace and favour’ allowance of up to $10 per week from Administration funds to selected cases brought to its attention Thirty—one such payments were being made at 30 June 1976 and of these thirty were being made to Pitcairn descendants The trend is a declining one forty—one such payments having been made at 30 June 1973 The maximum amount payable was lifted from $6 a week in 1966 to $7 in 1967 and to $10 in July 1970

From time to time old people who are receiving these special allowances are hospitalised (some permanently) because there are no other facilities available for their care Two such cases existed at 30 June 1976 The Administration pays for all their medical and hospital expenses and at present the hospital expense alone exceed $18,000 per annum per patient To date all people who have been hospitalised in this way have been of Pitcairn descent This situation indicates a pressing need for the construction of a suitable home for elderly citizens a facility which is at the present time inhibited by financial considerations

  1. Pensions

There are no statutory old age invalid or other pension systems in Norfolk Island For the purposes of the Australian Social Services Act 1947-1975 Norfolk Island is not regarded as part of Australia and differs in this respect from the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory Under the Social Services Act No 2 of 1975 which came into force in September 1975 Norfolk Island was expressly excluded from its operation The Prime Minister stated in his Second Reading Speech of 20 August 1975 when introducing the Social Services Bill No 2 of 1975 ‘Residence in Norfolk Island is excluded from the ambit of the Bill in view of the recent appointment of a Royal Commission into matters including social security relating to Norfolk Island’

Former residents of the Australian mainland now residing Norfolk Island continue to receive Australian pensions the kinds of pensions and the numbers who receive them are as follows:

Age pensions 22

Widows’ pensions 1

Total 23

The estimated cost of these social service pensions for 1975—76 is as follows:


Pensions 50,000

Postage 110

Miscellaneous (envelopes, stationery, administration etc. estimated) 500

50 610

Repatriation benefits: A returned serviceman (or woman) may receive or claim most repatriation benefits irrespective of domicile in Australia, its territories or elsewhere overseas, hence an ex—serviceman from the Australian forces resident in Norfolk and his dependants are eligible to receive a war pension and associated benefits, including medical treatment, in a manner no different from that applying to an ex-serviceman and his depend— ants living in Australia.
  1. Medical benefits

Persons permanently resident in Norfolk Island are not Australian residents for the purposes of the Australian Health insurance Act 1973-1975, and therefore are not eligible for Medibank medical benefits in respect of treatment received in Norfolk Island. However, if they are insured with a private medical insurance organisation, they are eligible for payment of that organisation’s benefits (both medical and ancillary) to the extent of their cover They are not entitled to the Commonwealth Government’s contribution to such benefits normally paid to Australian resident members of those organisations

For some years representations were made to the Commonwealth Government to provide financial assistance to the Norfolk Island Administration to enable it to provide free hospital and medical treatment and free medicine and drugs to Australian Pensioner Medical Services pensioners residing permanently in the Island thus placing those pensioners in the same situation they would be in if they resided in Australia An additional amount of $6000 was as a result included in the general assistance subsidy for 1974-75 and 1975-76 and is included in the Budget for 1976-77

Residents of Norfolk Island who incur expenses for medical services and optometrical consultations while visiting Australia are regarded as ‘eligible persons’ and are therefore entitled to Medibank medical benefits with respect to those services.

Cases of Australian residents who receive treatment whilst visiting Norfolk Island are considered according to individual circumstances and treated in the same way they would be treated in any other country outside Australia If these people are regarded as temporarily absent from Australia they are eligible for Medibank medical benefits to the extent they would be eligible if the medical expenses were incurred in Australia. However, an Australian who has taken up permanent residence in Norfolk Island is regarded as not meeting the requirement for payment of benefits from the Australian Government’s funds.

If an Australian temporarily absent from the mainland is hospitalised in the Island, Medibank hospital arrangements still cover him.

The position of Norfolk Islanders who are hospitalised during visits to Australia is as follows:

With respect to public hospitals - Medibank shares with the state Governments on a 50/50 basis the costs of hospitalization. Free accommodation and treatment are generally made available to visitors -the decision to make free treatment available to non—residents rests with the State Government. If free treatment is not available then the patient is accommodated in either an intermediate or a private ward for which the hospital makes its customary charges. Contributors to private health insurance organisations are eligible for hospital benefits from the private organisations which, with the Commonwealth Government hospital benefits for privately insured patients, cover these charges. Patients who do not contribute to private hospital benefits organisations are eligible for Commonwealth Government hospital benefits of 80c a day. Intermediate and private ward patients are treated by private doctors of their choice, whose fees attract Medibank medical benefits.

With respect to private hospitals - Patients have their hospital accounts reduced by Medibank hospital benefits of $16 a day. Private health insurance organisations offer cover against the balance of the hospital charge, and contributors to these organisations are also eligible for Commonwealth Government hospital benefits of $2 a day. Patients who are not members of private insurance organisations are eligible for Commonwealth Government hospital benefits of 80~ a day. Doctors’ fees incurred during hospitalisation attract Medibank medical benefits.

  1. Health

        1. Medical services

A general practitioner type medical service is provided to residents of the Island and visitors by a government medical officer who is appointed from Australia by the Minister for Administrative Services on the recommendation of the Australian Department of Health, and who is under contract to the Administration for a period of two years. His salary and expenses are met by the Island’s Administration. The doctor acts as medical superintendent of the hospital and is responsible for public health, hygiene and quarantine.

Medical consultations are carried out on the hospital premises (patients being classed as ‘out-patients’) and home visits are undertaken as necessary.

Procedures exist for obtaining outside assistance in situations that cannot, in the opinion of the medical officer, be dealt with safely and adequately within the Island. The patient may be transferred to Australia or New Zealand by regular air services or, in the case of an emergency, by Australia or New Zealand generally using the Air Forces of those countries free of cost. Routine referral for specialist opinion is made to these countries.

An ambulance vehicle, garaged at the hospital, is available for transporting patients~

        1. Specialist medical services

These are provided in the Island on an occasional basis in the specialties of gynaecology, otorhinolaryngology and ophthalmology (with optometry) under the auspice of community service organisations or through private initiatives. A dermatologist, resident in the Island, provides services in her specialty on a part-time basis. With the exception of those funded by service organisations, all consultations are on a fee—for— service basis.

Referrals for specialist or second opinion present difficulties. This situation is, however, inevitable owing to the isolation of the Island.

New Zealand, through Islanders visiting that country for health services, makes a significant contribution, Many New Zealand nationals live in the Island and, of course, an air flight to their native land is shorter than a flight to Australia, As a ready source of specialist opinion and treatment, New Zealand is very important to the Island.
        1. Dental services

These are provided by a government dental officer appointed for two years by the Minister for Administrative Services with the salary and expenses being met from Administration funds. Free dental services are available for expectant mothers and all student children. There is a twice yearly dental inspection of all school children, Other residents are treated on a fee-for-service basis.
        1. Hospital services

The Island has a hospital with a nominal capacity of sixteen beds in eight wards, but with two more beds readily available. It has a lounge, corridor and other space which could be used for emergency accommodation and treatment in the event of a disaster. It is administered under the appropriate ordinance which provides for a hospital board of five members and which sets out the powers and functions of the board. The hospital provides the focus for health services in the Island, Although a considerable number of improvements have been effected during the 1975-76 year, the main building and its related facilities require still further upgrading, along with all aspects of medical services in the Island, especially staff training opportunities.

        1. In-patient services

General medical, surgical and midwifery patients are admitted. During the financial year 1975-76 the average daily bed occupancy was 6.5 against a break—even point of nine (in so far as costs are concerned) The current staff establishment is a matron four nursing sisters four nurse aides and appropriate domestic and administrative staff all of whom are under the administrative control of a hospital secretary/manager The present secretary/manager is a qualified pharmacist who combines dispensing activity with his other duties.
        1. Out-patient services

For the six months November 1975 to April 1976 the out—patient attendance was 3489. In the absence of separate statistics it is estimated that no more than 25% of all patients treated would be non-residents Adequate x-ray facilities are provided to support out—patient services and the unit is mobile for in—patient use A simple comparator method of pathology testing (ames) is used for such tests as blood urea.
        1. Pharmacy services

Pharmacy services are available at the hospital for in—patients and out-­patients An adopted pricing structure based on that recommended by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia is used the minimum charge at the time of taking evidence being 50 cents per prescription item The majority of the drugs are imported from New Zealand (because of price advantage) although many are manufactured in Australia

As mentioned earlier the present hospital secretary/ manager is a qualified pharmacist. It is the intention of the hospital board to provide a full retail pharmacy service at the hospital. This will produce additional revenue and, as the hospital is located some distance from the retail pharmacy in the Burnt Pine shopping area, it should also provide a wider service.

The Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance 1957—1973 does not appear to prohibit importation of therapeutic substances not meeting standards required in Australia, It is recommended that controls on their entry into the Island be introduced to safeguard the public.

In addition to the entry of drugs into the Island, actual sales of drugs remain a source of concern, At the present moment the limited list set out in the Pharmacy Ordinance is very much out of date and a wide range of modern drugs may be sold without any control or prescription, Problems emerge therefore in the controlled treatment of patients. It is recommended that the Pharmacy Ordinance 1956-1964 be brought up to date as a matter of some urgency.

        1. Public health services

Drinking water is obtained from roof catchment, while additional water supply for other purposes is obtained from bores. The water supply to the larger establishments is monitored for contamination at half— yearly inspections by a senior health inspector of the Australian Capital Territory Health Commission, who also arranges for samples to be tested.

Additionally, a locally appointed part-time health inspector arranges further testing at his discretion.

Some delays have been experienced in the transport (using commercial portable ice—boxes) of water specimens for testing. While naturally such delays are undesirable the Health Commission does not feel it warrants any lack of confidence in observed results.

Sewerage and septic tank installations in all premises are subject to approval by the local health inspector and effluent from sewerage installations is tested at appropriate intervals. While it is desirable that a reticulated water supply and full treatment of sewage collected by a suitable system be provided, the spread of population, the absence of an effective catchment and the cost involved do not at this juncture permit this provision.

Butchers are licensed to slaughter in premises that are subject to inspection. Premises where food is prepared commercially are licensed and inspected. These arrangements appear to be satisfactory.

Milk pasteurisation facilities are not available in the Island However local herds have been tested and found to be free of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. A system whereby milk is delivered within three hours of milking has been instituted and this also appears to be satisfactory.

A limited private garbage collection service exists. Garbage disposal is effected by private incineration or dumping into the sea at Headstone Point.

        1. Maternal and child health

On the initiative of the Norfolk Island Young Wives and Mothers Club, and with its financial support, a part-time infant welfare sister conducts ante natal and post-natal classes and performs duties of the kind usually carried out in baby health centres, A regular fortnightly clinic is held.

        1. Domiciliary nursing

General nursing and other supportive services are provided by a district nursing service that is partly funded by the Administration and partly by a private donation known as the ‘Emily Channer Trust’, Much of this service is directed towards care of geriatric patients in their home environment.
        1. Family planning, mental health, alcoholism and drug dependency services

Subject to later comments regarding health education these services at general practitioner level (with referral to Australia and New Zealand) are adequate medically and appropriate for the social climate provided a satisfactory funding mechanism can be arranged.
        1. School medical services

Medical examination of school children is carried out intermittently.
        1. Health education

The voluntary efforts of community service organisations, with assistance from the government medical officer and other health and education personnel, have no formal basis.
        1. Immunisation services

Efforts are made to complete immunisation in respect of triple antigen and poliomyelitis for all school children, but there is no formal program. Immunisation for other diseases is deficient.

        1. Quarantine services

The vaccination status of persons arriving from places other than Australia and New Zealand is checked on arrival, Precautionary measures are applied to prevent the introduction of animal and plant diseases,

Concern has been expressed because Australia, although permitting entry of dogs and other animals from New Zealand, will not permit their entry from Norfolk Island, Basically, this is because there is no government—approved veterinary surgeon permanently in the Island who could supervise the arrival of animals on international flights and, consequently, no acceptable certification can be given that the animals are free of disease, Relaxation of this rule would present an unacceptable risk to Australia.

        1. Physiotherapy

This is available on a private fee—for—service basis from a physiotherapist resident in the Island This service is adequate and if it were lost could be replaced by the government medical officer assisted by nursing staff who would receive special training if necessary.
        1. Emergency blood supply

At the time of the hearings the situation regarding blood transfusion treatment in Norfolk Island was not satisfactory in spite of the existence there of a blood donor panel of about eighty people. Subsequent investigation however has revealed that this situation has now been corrected.
        1. Certification procedures

The existing process through which it is necessary to pass before a mentally ill person in the Island ca be certified for removal for treatment is cumbersome time consuming and in a small community needlessly embarrassing The relevant Lunacy Ordinance require amendment to bring it into line with present practice in the Australian Capital Territory which is much more enlightened and effective
  1. Education

The educational services in the Island provide for children up to and including fourth form in secondary education. Minor assistance provided by the Administration caters for some of the expenses of children wishing to further their education in Australia. Children who qualify for such assistance go to the mainland each year for higher education and in 1975 the assistance being given was as follows:

Bursaries 7

Traineeships 10

Tertiary scholarships 1

The school is staffed by a principal and twelve other teachers currently recruited from the New South Wales Department of Education, their salaries and expenses are met by the Administration. However, under the Commonwealth Government’s Administrative Arrangements Orders of December 1972 the Australian Department of Education has responsibility for education in the Island and that Department is in a position to provide the necessary servicing, but as yet has elected not to do so.

The school, which of course is co-educational, consists of three main blocks of buildings, one of which is the original school built seventy years ago. There were 305 students at three levels - infants, primary and secondary, at 30 June 1976, School buses carry children to and from school daily from most parts of the Island, The bus runs are subsidised by the Administration to the extent of $7,500 per annum. Because of the small size of the school, the range of subjects offered at secondary level is necessarily limited. Access to correspondence courses from New South Wales is also provided.

In the past, the Administration’s levels of recurrent expenditure on education have compared favourably with mainland levels. The Australian Department of Education, however, is concerned that, while the Administration has met basic standards in the past, it may find it increasingly difficult to afford the additional expense required to meet rising standards in the future. (This view is vigorously denied by some private sources in the Island.) Recent reports indicate to the Department that in the supply of equipment, library stocks, duplicating facilities and ancillary staff the school may be falling behind mainland standards, but this again is denied by some sources in the Island. The School relies heavily on the Parents and Citizens Association for new apparatus such as videotape equipment, overhead projectors and cassette recorders,

The school library is well stocked with 6000 books but is oriented mainly towards the primary students’ requirements.

Ancillary staff consist of a clerical assistant and in addition the following part-time workers namely an economics lecturer a French tutor a librarian and a pianist Further part-time assistance could be profitably employed.

The Australian Department felt that current expenditure on capital items is not sufficient to maintain standards at the school Four years ago plans for a new toilet and ablution bloc were drawn up for the school and the block has now been built An inspection revealed that present arrangements although not first—class are in fact quite within tolerable standards in the circumstances. Staff facilities at the school are now adequate. Minor maintenance work such as repairing leaking roofs and blocked sinks at the school occasionally lags due not to financial impediments in the Island but to shortages of skilled manpower Save for the audio—visual room the buildings are considered to be satisfactory within their limits.

Educationally the Island is at a clear cultural disadvantage in the eyes of the Australian Department The Department allege that because of geographical isolation the Island has limited access to cultural facilities such as theatres libraries radio and newspapers The Island has no satisfactory access to program television (Some freak reception is occasionally obtained from Australia and New Zealand) Opportunities for increasing the rang of learning experiences available to the children are therefore limited Evidence to the Department indicated that the effects of this cultural disadvantage have been noticed Some parents and teachers report that the children’s academic attainments are lower than might be expected; also Island children who continue their education in the mainland have difficulty competing successfully with mainland children who have a wider range of experiences.

All the above allegations by the Department were contested and denied by many Island residents who in fact feel their children’s situation in the Island affords them distinct advantages culturally socially and educationally - at least up to the level to which local schooling takes them The residents clearly do not want the present arrangements with the New South Wales Department of Education disturbed but it was conceded that the situation with respect to post—Island education could be improved.

There is no formal pre-school system. A voluntary group operates a facility for the very young but it is more in the nature of a play centre than an educational institution. It was alleged by the Australian Department that the absence of a genuine pre-school educational system is a source of the disadvantages influencing children in the Island.

Similarly, there is no form oforganised adult education system available in the Island, but the school buildings are used for community meetings of an evening.

  1. Compensation and other benefits

(e.g. terms and conditions of employment)

In treating this area it should be recorded that Australia is a Member of the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.), the United Nations specialised agency concerned with Labour and related matters. The I.L.O. adopts international instruments on labour standards which take the form of Conventions and Recommendations. I.L.O. Conventions are international treaties open to ratification by Member States of the I.L.O. On the other hand Recommendations, which are advisory in character, are not open to ratification and are meant to provide guidelines for national practice.

I.L.O Conventions which Australia has ratified and which have relevance to the Terms of Reference of this Commission are in the following fields:

  1. Workers compensation;

  2. Employment and employment services;

  3. Wages and wage-fixing machinery;

  4. Freedom of association;

  5. Labour inspection,

Now that the decision in the Berwick Case has made it clear that Norfolk Island is part of the Commonwealth the I L 0 Conventions which Australia has ratified should apply to the Island unless peculiarly local circumstances justify their being declared inapplicable To date full application of these Conventions has not been extended to the Island in the case of every Convention and the current situation is as under:
        1. Re Workers Compensation

With respect to these Conventions Australia has reserved its decision in so far as applying them to Norfolk Island is concerned There is no general workers compensation cover extended to people employed in Norfolk Island Leaving aside Commonwealth Government employees who are covered by the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act 1971-1974 such cover as exists for others in the Island is confined to ex gratia payments for members of the staff of the Administration and private arrangements for specific groups of employees. The Island Council and the Administrator have endorsed the introduction of a compulsory accident compensation scheme conditions of which have been drawn up to apply exclusively to the Island circumstance, The basic scope of this scheme in the areas of personal accident compensation medical and hospital benefits and personal injury involving motor accidents may be augmented by taking extra units. The scheme is as yet not implemented.

The Department of the Capital Territory advised the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations early in 1973 that its then Minister was giving consideration to the adoption of legislation designed to extend workers compensation protection to all employees in Norfolk Island The legislation is yet to be introduced and every step should be taken to do this without further delay.

        1. Employment and employment services

Of the four Conventions in this area which have been ratified by Australia, two were declared to be inapplicable to Norfolk Island because of its small size and population These two relate to an employment service to assist in alleviating unemployment along with measures to administer unemployment benefits. A third Convention (No. 122 - Promotion of Full, productive and freely Chosen Employment) has been declared applicable to the Island without modification. The fourth Convention (No. 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) 1958) is one of the I.L.O. human rights instruments, and consultations are proceeding between the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations and the Department of Administrative Services with a view to finalizing the manner in which the provisions of the Convention will be implemented in Norfolk Island. This mainly involves determining how a policy to eliminate discrimination in employment and occupation will be declared and pursued. It should be stressed, however, that this exercise is largely a formality, as no evidence of discrimination in the Island was brought to the attention of the Commission.
        1. Wages and wage-fixing machinery

Australia has ratified four Conventions dealing with various aspects of wages and wage fixing machinery. Two of these have been declared inapplicable to Norfolk Island because of the limited extent and composition of the working population. No declarations have yet been made regarding the other two, Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value (Convention No. 100), and Minimum Wage Fixing (Convention No. 131). In practices the principle of equal remuneration has been implemented in the area of Administration employment and it is understood that this will be formalised by the proposed public Service Ordinance.

        1. Freedom of association and the right to organise

Australia has ratified three conventions in this area, and all three have been declared applicable without modification to the Island.
        1. Labour inspection

Australia has ratified two Conventions dealing with various aspects of labour inspection One (No 85 Labour Inspectorate~ (Non-Metropolitan Territories) 1947) was declared inapplicable to Norfolk Island in 1954 on the grounds that there were no secondary industries there and primary production was confined largely to small holdings worked by farmers on their own account The absence of minimum—wage fixing machinery in the private sector has been considered as a further reason against the establishment of a labour inspection service However with the introduction of secondary industries (e g timber processing and rock crushing) the need for a labour inspectorate has increase although it is still doubtful whether the size of industry in the Island and the Island’s way of life warrants the cost of setting up such a service.

The Administration introduced in 1972 for its staff a wage and salary formula comprising a basic proportion of the then equivalent Commonwealth levels and full adjustment in accordance with changes in the Commonwealth structure. This has a tendency to be the pace setter for the rest of the Island.

The second Convention (No 81) requires the establishment of an entire system of labour inspection in industrial and commercial work places A declaration in respect of this Convention has yet to be made in relation to Norfolk Island and it is doubtful if the Island’s circumstances require such a declaration

        1. Labour Standards

(The situation regarding Non-­Metropolitan Territories - Convention No, 83)

Convention No. 83, which only applies to non-metropolitan territories, contains a schedule consisting of the substantive provisions of thirteen earlier Conventions, A country which ratifies the Convention is required to make declarations for its non—metropolitan territories in respect of each instrument in the schedule whether or not it has ratified that instrument in other words Australia which has ratified Convention No 83 has entered into an international obligation to apply, as far as possible, the provisions of all the instruments in the schedule, both ratified and unratified.

Australia has ratified only five (Nos 15, 16, 19, 27 and 45) of the thirteen Conventions concerned. Of the eight unratified instruments, three (Nos 6(90), 41(89) and 45) are inapplicable to Norfolk Island owing to local conditions, and a decision has been reserved as regards two others, Nos 17 and 3. The remaining three Conventions are Nos 14, 59 and 77. Although Nos 14 (Weekly Rest in Industry), 59 (Minimum Age for Employment in Industry) and 77 (Medical Examination of Young Persons Employed in Industry) have been declared inapplicable to Norfolk Island, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, in conjunction with the Department of Administrative Services, has these declarations under consideration with a view to reviewing the question of their application as necessary. As there are some activities carried on in the Island (e.g. quarrying, electricity generation, telephone installation and road maintenance and construction), which come within the scope of the Conventions, it seems timely that this question now be reviewed,

        1. Superannuation

The Norfolk Island Public Service has a contributory provident fund scheme which is governed by legislation and theoretically covers only the permanent officers of the Public Service but in practice also covers all permanent employees. The only other superannuation type schemes which may exist in the Island would be solely private ones. The private sector operates generally in freedom from any legislative restraint in respect of working conditions relating to compensation, sick leave, recreation leave and long service pay.

        1. Wage Structure

There are no statutory requirements in regard to minimum wages, margins or the engagement or termination of employment, except in relation to the Norfolk Island Administration, However some employers do adhere to Australian standards in these areas.

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