Cook Islands Opposition Challenges PM To Call Parliament

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Democrats want Puna to tackle political reform

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 29, 2015) – The Democratic Party is challenging Prime Minister Henry Puna to call parliament and tackle political reform.

Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Murienua James Beer says the party’s caucus agrees the country’s leaders should urgently address the issue of political reform.

"And the best way to do that is to get some select committees together and start working out and constructing the framework for how best we can get voter equity and a more efficient government."

Beer says at least 90 per cent of all the work done in parliament is handled by select committees.

"The bombasts, the chest-thumping that occurs during normal debate (in parliament) do not actually produce anything."

Parliament has numerous issues to address and Beer says the party would like to hear back from the Family Law Bill select committee, look at various petitions which are before parliament and tackle the road safety issue.

The standard procedure for starting a discussion around political reform would be to put forward a motion in parliament to form a select committee to address the issue, he says.

"That would form the framework, and then we go into a process of interviewing people, asking questions…what are the basic things we want out of political reform?"

But how a reformed Cook Islands political system would look remains unclear.

Yesterday members of the Demo Party caucus did not say outright that they would support reducing the number of representatives in the 24-seat parliament.

"For us to amend the constitution we need two-thirds majority of the House of Parliament," says Beer.

"And that would mean a number of seats that were voting for the change would more than likely end up being cancelled out or removed at the next general election."

Therefore the process would require a constitutional amendment to go through the first, second and third readings in parliament before the scheduled next general election in 2018, he says.

"We probably need a really good argument between now and next year before the next election so we’ve got some pretty clear ideas about it."

Another option would be to seek a referendum.

"I think you’d find that if there was a referendum question that the majority of the people would vote for it – because the majority of the people reside on Rarotonga."

One Cook Islands leader Teina Bishop proposed political reform in parliament he was in government in 2013, and earlier this year he was still pushing for that change.

The proposed changes would mean smaller islands such as Mitiaro would still have one seat, and if the population increased, so would the number of seats.

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