Cooks PM Putting UN Membership Bid On ‘Side Burner’

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Puna unable to corner NZ PM at Forum to discuss issue

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 25, 2015) – The government’s dream to secure a seat at the most powerful table in the world has been sidelined while Prime Minister Henry Puna deals with important matters on home soil.

However, a fear of jeopardising the country’s relationship with New Zealand may still be playing heavily on Prime Minister Henry Puna’s mind, with both sides of the political spectrum in New Zealand hesitant to support the Cook Islands’ United Nations membership dreams.

Puna did not have the opportunity to cosy up with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to discuss his UN membership plans at the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

"I had many opportunities to engage with Prime Minister Key but I never had the opportunity to pull him aside," said Puna in a press conference last week.

"We’re just putting it on the side burner – not on the backburner, just the side burner for now, while we deal with these major initiatives we need to address and push through."

A spokesman for New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told CI News the New Zealand leader’s position remained the same.

"Prime Minister Key has made it clear that New Zealand is not in a position to support Cook Islands membership of the UN under the Cooks Islands’ current constitutional status.

"If the Cook Islands wants UN membership, we will need to change the constitutional relationship, including the current shared citizenship."

Key would be open to reviewing New Zealand’s relationship if the Cook Islands wanted to do so, but New Zealand was not seeking change, the spokesman said.

And if they were in government, the New Zealand Labour Party would also be unwilling to provide outright support for the Cook Islands’ UN ambitions.

New Zealand Labour Party spokesman for Foreign Affairs, David Shearer said the issue was a matter of international precedent.

The constitutional relationship New Zealand had with the Cook Islands wass similar to the relationship other countries had with territories, said Shearer.

In other words, if New Zealand supported the Cook Islands bid, they could hit a roadblock with other countries unwilling to support it.

Victoria University of Wellington Professor of Political Science Stephen Levine recently observed a precedent had already been set, because New Zealand had become a member of the United Nations in 1945, when its people were still citizens of Britain.

New Zealand citizenship was not established until New Zealand Parliament passed the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948, which became effective in January1, 1949. However, the situation with the Cook Islands was quite different, said Shearer.

"It’s important we get this 100 per cent right if we’re going to go down that track – we need to have a closer look at the relationship."

If the Cook Islands pushed for UN membership, Shearer said his party would look at the relationship "in good faith" and would be as transparent as possible.

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