Cooks PM Refutes Independence Story On NZ Website

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Stuff reported independence push would end NZ citizenship

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 2, 2015) – The Cook Islands is not pushing for independence from New Zealand as claimed in a story published online by the Stuff website, says Prime Minister Henry Puna.

Speaking from Thailand where he is taking part in a Pacific dialogue with the Thai Government, the Prime Minister totally refuted the 800-word story, posted on the widely-read New Zealand newspaper website over the weekend.

The story claimed the Cook Islands has been pushing for independence from New Zealand, at the price of losing New Zealand citizenship for the nation’s children.

It said the New Zealand Government had warned that Cook Islanders would lose their guaranteed right to work in New Zealand, ‘as it tries to stave off the risk of a sudden mass migration to New Zealand’.

But Puna says the story has got it wrong and at no time has he, or his government, ever put forward the issue of a change in the status of the Cook Islands – either with New Zealand or internally.

"There is no push for independence, and we don’t intend to put it on the table."

The Prime Minister said he was ‘appalled’ that the news item had created drama where there actually was none.

"It was totally improper and discourteous of the two news writers to publish this story without gaining the facts first from the Cook Islands. Instead, there is a mishmash of uninformed opinion that can only damage the integrity of high level discussions.

"We have a long-standing policy to gain membership of the United Nations. This is not new and as a national policy, it reaches well back into the 1980s. Successive governments in the Cook Islands have explored this step in consultation with New Zealand and we are no different today."

As a result of its lengthy history of UN aspirations, the Prime Minister says the Cook Islands has been fully aware of the arguments and issues related to the common citizenship for many years.

The Prime Minister said he intended to meet with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on June 9 for talks that had been requested since late 2014.

"We signed a Joint Centenary Declaration in 2001 in which previous leaders committed our countries to a process of consultation on matters of significant mutual interest. We have an interest in joining the United Nations and as a courtesy, have been continuing this dialogue with New Zealand."

The face-to-face with Key was simply part of an on-going dialogue process, the Prime Minister said.

The two leaders had previously not been able to spend any time discussing the Cook Islands’ UN aspirations because of schedules. Puna said he had no desire to debate so-called ‘independence’.

"The Cook Islands is a maturing developing state that has aspirations like any other sovereign entity.

"It’s quite understandable, and acceptable, that one day we would like to fulfil this goal to join the UN." The Stuff story, written by Vernon Small and Simon Day, claimed it was ‘understood’ that the Cook Islands saw a vote at the UN as an important bargaining chip that could give them greater influence and leverage to secure more aid and economic development cash.

"Puna is keen for what officials are calling ‘the money and the bag’ option – full independence while retaining NZ citizenship – but that is unlikely to be granted," it said.

The ‘money and the bag’ option could also fall foul of international opinion, the story said.

"Not only could it be interpreted as a grab by New Zealand for an extra seat at the UN, it could create an unwelcome precedent for counties such as France, the United States and Britain and their dependencies in the Pacific and elsewhere.

"Sources said it would also create a controversial precedent strengthening Palestine’s case for a place in the UN".

Opposition leader William ‘Smiley’ Heather yesterday questioned how the Stuff website story had come about, especially in the light of the fact that last month in the New Zealand Listener magazine, SPC head Colin Takuitonga, had recounted a conversation with Puna, in which the Prime Minister had said he was thinking seriously of giving up the New Zealand citizenship and the New Zealand passport because it was ‘hampering’ the Cook Islands’ opportunities.

"I don’t know how he can say things like this when his party has such a small margin in Parliament. "Frankly, I think he’s stupid. If we were independent, who would look after things like our defence? And that’s just one thing. There are many other things to think about.

"We are part of the Commonwealth and part of New Zealand. Why move away from New Zealand? We are brothers."

CI News was unable to contact One Cook Islands leader Teina Bishop for comment yesterday.

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