Cook Islands Protests Over NZ Pension Taxation To Continue

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‘Grey Power’ ready to march when parliament resumes

By Cameron Scott

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 28, 2015) – Grey Power members will resume their protest marches against the tax on New Zealand pensions as soon as parliament sits again.

While acknowledging that it’s anyone’s guess as to when that might be, the organisation’s president, Dennis Tunui, says they’re already preparing placards and are determined to make a big impact with their protests, which will be organised along the same lines of demonstrations in 2014.

"We have to make sure that our concerns are hear d and we have to carry on being seen to be doing something about this tax. While we decided earlier this year that we wouldn’t be doing any protest marches, members agreed that the ones we held in the past were very effective. The prime minister certainly didn’t like them.

"We are encouraged by the support and have agreed that as soon as parliament convenes again we will continue our focus. Even if parliament doesn’t sit again till next year, we will still stand firm."

Though some Grey Power members have bowed to demand from MFEM and paid tax owing from previous years, a core group of 60 elderly is refusing to pay on the grounds that they believe the pension should never have been taxed at all. They are also protesting the fact that while $400,000 earlier raided from pensioner’s accounts was eventually refunded, none of the interest that would have accumulated on the money has been returned.

While Grey Power has always maintained the position that the New Zealand pension should not be subject to back taxes on the grounds that it was previously allowed to be earned tax-free, Financial Secretary Richard Neves’ position has been that under Cook Islands taxation law, the New Zealand pension is subject to tax.

In response to previous questions from CI News, Neves has stuck to his position that there has been no change in the taxation law or in the rates which apply to the New Zealand pension.

However, Tunui says Grey Power still has plenty of support, and even those pensioners have bowed to demands and paid their tax are attending meetings.

"In fact, there were a lot more people at our last meeting which is really encouraging. Attendance had dropped down to about 20 just before the Te Maeva Nui celebration, but last Friday at the Sinai Hall, more than 60 turned up.

"Some of the people in the core group got scared after they received demanding letters from the tax officials and paid up, but they are still showing support for those who refuse to pay."

The meeting was attended by lawyer David McNair, and while he didn’t provide the organisation with any formal advice, he did outline the position of those pensioners who hadn’t paid their tax, says Tunui.

"He pointed out that what the government was doing was legal, but he also said the only thing we can do is not give up, and to show solidarity."

Meanwhile, those who haven’t paid their taxes are still receiving letters from MFEM and are still being visited by tax officials, Tunui says.

"Some of the elderly are getting quite scared, but I told them that if any tax officers turn up at their homes, they should chase them out of their yards.

"I also advised some people to take all their money out of the bank, but now the tax people are taking payments out before it even goes into their accounts.

"I accept that the government is within its rights taxing us for 2013 and 2014 and we have been accumulating big penalties. We have been worried about mounting costs and we are constantly being reminded about arrears and the tax currently owed.

"We know we are breaking the law, but we want this issue to go to court. However, it seems MFEM doesn’t want that to happen. But we want the tax wiped completely. It wasn’t taxed in the past, so why should it be taxed now?"

In the meantime, Tunui says he and other members of the group are getting new placards prepared and as soon as there is any news of parliament sitting, Grey Power will subsidise the airfares of two pensioners from each of several outer islands to come to Rarotonga and join in the protest marches.

"We have agreed we really want to get in these peoples’ (government’s) faces."

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