Untangling the Norfolk Island web

The government has introduced legislation to extend most Australian laws to Norfolk Island. (AAP)

Swapping some democracy for decent social services on a former convict island is proving complicated.

Taking over a little island is complicated.

Almost a year ago, the Australian government - in the teeth of bitter, though not unanimous, opposition from locals - ended Norfolk Island's 36 years of self-government.

The cost of running the 35 square kilometre dot in the Pacific and former convict hellhole was way beyond its 2300 population, Canberra decided.

The island was broke and many vital services had almost disintegrated.

The changes abolished Norfolk's Legislative Assembly, to be replaced by a regional council broadly similar to NSW local government councils.

In return, islanders are, from July 1 this year, to be integrated into mainland tax and social security systems. They'll have access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The federal government will deliver national functions such as immigration, biosecurity and customs.

But swapping some democracy for decent services isn't simple.

Territories Minister Paul Fletcher demonstrated this on Wednesday with a bill that starts by actually amending the definition of Australia to include Norfolk Island.

But that means, Mr Fletcher explained, that all Commonwealth legislation will automatically apply to Norfolk, unless the island is specifically excluded.

So his bill amends 23 Acts to expressly exclude Norfolk from their cover.

However, there are difficulties with other laws that will apply.

Take the Fair Work Act. Among other things, it sets the minimum wage at $17.29 an hour. Norfolk's minimum is now $10.70.

Local businesses screamed that such a rise would bankrupt them. So Mr Fletcher has promised a "phased extension" to give islanders "appropriate time to adjust to the changes".

Then there's federal electoral arrangements.

The old voluntary arrangements were strange, with Australians on the island able to choose the electorate they'd vote in.

The results: very few voted, those who did cast votes all over the place, and no particular MP or senator formally represented the island.

Mr Fletcher's changes mean voting becomes compulsory and everyone is in the seat of Canberra for the House of Representatives and the ACT for the Senate.

Source AAP

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