The undemocratic case of Christmas Island

Kelvin Matthews spent six and half years as the Chief Executive Officer for the Shire of Christmas Island until October 2016, and recently completed his PHD at Notre Dame University on the question of self-determination for Christmas Island.  

Matthews argues that the current delegated applied legislation regime on Christmas Island is undemocratic and the applied delegated legislation of Western Australian laws to Christmas Island is complex and unworkable and excludes the community from having input into the laws that govern their daily lives.

While in the rest of Australia, communities’ elect individuals to represent them, this fundamental democratic element is absent on Christmas Island. 

The Territory of Christmas Island sits under the Commonwealth seat of Lingiari in the Northern Territory and yet the majority of legislation applicable to the Island is delegated by the Commonwealth Government to the Western Australian State Government. 

This is despite the fact that Christmas Islanders do not vote in Western Australian state elections. 

Most key public services on the island are delivered by the Western Australian Government through Service Delivery Agreements (SDAs).

Christmas Island is not alone in this regard. The Commonwealth has recently enforced a similar delegated legislative regime for the governance of Norfolk Island.

Matthews said, “Australia is a democratic nation, in which governments are elected by popular vote.

“A healthy democracy requires that all members of the community have equal access to the political process that governs their lives. 

“Yet in 2020, the community of Christmas Island does not enjoy this equal access and has still not achieved representative and responsible government.”

The arrangement between the Commonwealth and the Western Australian Government excludes the fundamental principles of responsible government and representative democracy.

Matthews quotes from the 1992 Islands in the Sun report that said, to the greatest degree possible, citizens should be empowered to participate in decision making, particularly on issues that affect their day to day lives. 

In this regard, the accountability of the Western Australian Parliament and the elected members who comprise it are accountable to the Western Australian electors who voted for them, but they are not accountable to Christmas Islanders, who are presently denied the right to vote for them.