Success Of Cook Islands Since Independence Debated By MPs

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Democratic MP suggests referendum on progress in last 50 years

By Emmanuel Samoglou

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 1, 2014) – Cook Islands Parliament was the scene of a boisterous debate yesterday with MP’s discussing whether the nation has been successful since the establishment of self-governance in 1965.

With only two months remaining before the commencement of 50th anniversary celebrations of self-rule in the Cook Islands, Murienua Member of Parliament James Beer hit the radio, where he was said to have called for a possible referendum looking into the positives and negatives the nation has experienced since the historic change.

The suggestion drew outrage from Finance Minister Mark Brown, who led yesterday’s parliamentary session with a ministerial statement that lashed out at Beer’s statehood comments.

"I took this to be the usual political rantings of one of our fringe members of our society," said Brown. "[Beer] said that we as a country have failed in every measure we could think of."

"And yet, if I look at the performance of our country since independence 50 years ago, I see nothing but progress, growth, and increased prosperity."

Brown said he issued his statement as a "proud Cook Islander".

In conclusion, Brown questioned whether Beer’s comments were part of the Democratic Party’s official policy.

"Does the Democratic Party want the Cook Islands to go back to being a colony of New Zealand?" he asked.

Responding to the Finance Minister, Beer stood his ground and said, "Let me be clear, I think the question of whether we have been successful as a nation needs to be asked."

"Have we managed ourselves successfully as a country under the realm of New Zealand?" he asked.

Welcoming Brown’s questioning, he said the matter should be the subject of a debate in the House.

Beer’s words didn’t stop the Cook Islands Party caucus from continuing its criticism of his on-air comments, as mudslinging reverberated throughout the House.

As question time continued, Cabinet Minister and Atiu MP Nandi Glassie picked up on the subject, and said there were options the country was given at the time it chose to go the route of self-government.

"The people decided we want to have independence in free association with New Zealand."

"From 1901 to 1964, there were some good things, but also some bad things under a colonial government," he said. "Does the MP for Murienua want to go back where we were .. under the colonial era or where we are now, which is the best option?"

"1965 is a long time ago," retorted Beer. "Let me just correct the question … Cook Islanders are already under colonial rule… because its been said that already 80,000 Cook Islanders live in New Zealand and other parts of the Pacific."

"It is appropriate that after 50 years, on the eve of this anniversary, that the question posed in this House should be asked again," he said. "Let the people tell us."

"Of course we want to be able to manage our own affairs, but why not ask the question. Why the resistance?" asked Beer.

When asked by Brown how he would vote in such a referendum, Beer said he would be guided by his Murienua constituents.

Parliament resumes on Monday, when MP’s are expected to shift their focus onto debate of the 2014-15 budget bill.

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