Revealed: State’s $200m takeover of Pacific island
Queensland is set to take control of Norfolk Island after New South Wales pulled the pin on a $192 million deal to manage the secluded tourist haven.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the State Government is in talks with the Commonwealth about providing health and education services on the remote volcanic island with a six-year deal with New South Wales set to expire in June.
Tourism bosses believe Norfolk Island, an isolated Australian territory located about 1400km off Brisbane in the Pacific Ocean with just 1800 residents, will be another jewel in the state's tourism crown.
Its Commonwealth-funded Norfolk Island Regional Council provides local and some state government services - however health and education funding has been dispensed by NSW since 2016, costing about $32 million each year.
With NSW flagging its intention to walk away from the island in June, the federal government is scrambling to find another state or territory willing to take the service contract.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did not comment on Queensland's prospect, but it is understood the state is in detailed talks with the Commonwealth about offering support.
The Australian Capital Territory has already knocked back the federal government's service request, seemingly putting Queensland in a one-horse race to take control.
The detail of the island deal is yet to be decided, however it is understood Queensland would continue managing more than $32 million in health and education services and the federal government would assist with at least some of the cost.
It is unlikely Queensland would receive an economic return from its investment, however, insiders say the tourism benefits could be substantial.
Norfolk Island is one of Australia's oldest territories, settling six weeks after the First Fleet sailed into Sydney in 1788.
It operated as a brutal penal settlement until 1855 and was used a vital refuelling depot during the Second World War.
Former federal Minister and Norfolk Island administrator Garry Hardgrave backed Queensland's bid to help service the historically-significant island.
"Queensland is highly experienced in remote learning and remote services so it wouldn't be a bad thing," he said.
"I don't see any downside."
Mr Hardgrave, the island's administrator between 2014 and 2017, said many of its residents already used Queensland hospitals and education facilities.
He said there were significant "natural linkages" between the state and the heritage-rich island.
"The history there is amazing and every Australian should go there once in their lifetime," he said.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind agreed Norfolk Island would be a significant addition to the state's destination portfolio.
"Adding some further attractions to Queensland's already pretty impressive island offering would be something beneficial," he said.
"We already have a good aviation connection to Northern Island and we would welcome another jewel in our tourism crown.
"It's a laid back and quiet place."
Before COVID-19 the island hosted about 25,000 visitors each year, generating about $33 million and making up about 40 per cent of the economy.
Until 2010 its residents paid no federal income tax.
This year the island, where people speak English and the local language of Norf'k, was crippled by the lack of tourists due to the pandemic.
The worsening economic situation prompted the federal government last month to suspend the Norfolk Island Regional Council for three months after an auditor's report found critical concerns in the governance, performance and sustainability of the island's finances.
The 34 square km island operates a large trade deficit, with $3 million in exports overshadowed by a $60 million imports cost.
Originally published as Revealed: State's $200m takeover of Pacific island