Block free entry to New Zealand
By Wilkie Rasmussen, Leader of the Opposition
On Tuesday (several days ago) the 13th of March, the Minister of Finance, Mark Brown made a remarkably poorly thought out statement. He said that to stop depopulation from the Cook Islands, his Government should now look at the issue of “free entry” to New Zealand more seriously. I thought to myself that this has to be a 13th day of the month joke since it was a statement made while the Minister is overseas. Then it dawned on me that he was serious.
Blocking or preventing Cook Islanders from entering New Zealand freely has to be the most obvious course of action for any Government of this country to take when it comes to tackling depopulation. However it can be extremely difficult to implement not because the process of changing the Cook Islands Constitution requires a two thirds majority vote of approval by Parliamentarians but it will most certainly require a nationwide referendum that captures the voice of our people. To avoid controversy it may also require consultation with Cook Islanders in New Zealand or even Australia or other places across the globe.
Free entry into New Zealand for all Cook Islanders is a right by virtue of Cook Islanders being New Zealand citizens. It is that latter status that all Cook Islanders value and it is for that reason that our earlier political fathers chose the option of being a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand. Is the Minister then suggesting we tamper with a matter that is sacrilege (tapu)? Is the Minister also prompting or paving the way for the Cook Islands to go down the track of full independence because to block free access, the Government has to “un-New Zealand” all of us. To do that, our right to a New Zealand passport is no longer given. We will then be subjected to visa requirements by the New Zealand authorities.
When the question of the Cook Islands wanting to be a member of the United Nations was put to ex-New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark some years ago, she said, it would only happen if the Cook Islands go fully independent and have its own passport. In other words, Cook Islanders must give up their New Zealand citizenship status. The same thing was said when we wanted to become a member of the Commonwealth organisation.
I don’t want to subject the Minister to my admonishment and set him up to face the possible wrath of thousands and thousands of Cook Islanders but I am astonished of what I call a “slip of the tongue” or he might have been suffering from jetlag when he insisted for this statement to be released to the media. What is also astonishing is that by saying this he exposes his Government to be empty of ideas of how to tackle depopulation.
As Minister of Finance should he not be focusing on ways to improve the economy and make it better for people to earn good money, afford their bills, pay for their mortgages and profit from their businesses? I have a number of times in Parliament and in this column suggested to him and the Prime Minister that they need to put in some austere measures on Government spending and reduce costs but to no avail. Now he faces a possible deficit budget of close to $15 million, rising each day and this will have an adverse impact on interest rates. That’s why people are leaving. We are in a financial crisis and this Government has run dry of ideas to avert it.
Lastly, I share my condolences and sadness to all the families who have suffered bereavements recently, Stan Heather of Avatiu, Papa Mazel in Kavera, Papa David Amoa in Turangi, Mama Moera in Mangaia and Mama Ina Tautu, a JP and much loved and respected lady from Matavera and Atiu.
Herald Issue 608 21 March
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