Self government has benefited Cook Islands - academic
A legal expert says, on the 50th anniversary of the Cook Islands self government, that the limited autonomy granted in 1965 has worked for the small Pacific country.
Next week the Cook Islands celebrates 50 years of self government in free association with New Zealand. The anniversary is being marked with gala events, including the visit of a large New Zealand parliamentary delegation headed by the Prime Minister, John Key. The decision to grant some autonomy while remaining within the Realm of New Zealand was implemented in 1965. It was a novel concept at the time and Don Wiseman asked small islands law expert, Tony Angelo, from Victoria University in Wellington, whether it has worked for the Cook Islands.
TONY ANGELO: I say yes. Opinions will differ. The Cook Islands may have a different view and New Zealand government may have a different view. But I would say categorically, yes.
DON WISEMAN: Why is it better than independence?
TA: My first response would be that people in the Cook Islands have the security of the link to New Zealand, which they may have been or be able to negotiate by some kind of bilateral treaty arrangement. But that wasn't really contemplated fifty years ago, and that was a remarkable degree of assurance while at the same time giving the people, if you like, the pride of autonomy.
DW: At the same time of course, it denies the Cook Islands opportunities... or it has historically, hasn't it, denied them a lot of foreign affairs opportunities? right now, there's a push, at least by the prime minister, for them to join the United Nations, and New Zealand is saying no.
TA: That is true. I think it's a political rather than a legal issue. We've seen some evidence on the web of possible New Zealand reasoning on that but personally I don't find it very convincing. I think the legal answer is there's no reason why they might not be a member of the UN. But at the UN end as well as the New Zealand relationship end, there would be a political issue. So even if New Zealand agreed, I guess there still be a question of whether they get the vote.
DW: Because they're not fully independent?
TA: I don't think that's the reason. It probably would play out in terms of how people saw the position of such a small state in the UN, in terms of affecting voting patterns. The fact that they have a special relationship with New Zealand might be part of that equation, but at another level I think we're quite long past the day when someone can say, but you're not a state therefore you're not entitled. The amount of international recognition that the Cook Islands has received in terms of establishing diplomatic relations with foreign states, I think puts the matter legally beyond doubt.
DW: There was - I think it'd be fair to say - a messy relationship post-independence between New Zealand and Samoa. But this, I think, it's generally agreed, has been solved by the friendship treaty. Now would that be something that New Zealand and the Cook Islands should be considering for themselves?
TA: That is certainly one way to go. That may well facilitate approval of an application for membership in the UN. The New Zealand part of that deal, we're given to understand, would involve access to New Zealand citizenship and that might be too big a price for the Cook Islands to want to pay. In other words, say, ok so you want to be treated as a state, therefore you should have your own citizenship, therefore, the New Zealand Citizenship Act will be amended accordingly to exclude for the future, access to New Zealand citizenship.
DW: Alright. This was a concept New Zealand and I guess the Cooks developed back in the 1960s. It was applied as well in Niue and there were attempts to apply something similar in Tokelau just a few years ago. But it hasn't been taken up anywhere else, although interestingly, people in Norfolk Island have raised it with me and said that this is a concept that they really like, they would like to see something like this in their relationship with Canberra. So is it an exportable idea?
TA: I think it is but it relies on... it's like many games, it takes two willing participants. I'm sure for instance that many in the Caribbean might like it but London has firmly said, for them, it's not an option that's there to be discussed.
DW: Other countries have considered it?
TA: Oh yes. And Norfolk Island has raised this in the past. But I think the attitude in Canberra is rather like the British one. Well, Canberra even stricter probably: you're an integral part of the territory and therefore we decide what will happen to you; it's not a matter of your self-determination. Whereas the Caribbean, these territories would be listed as colonies and in international law they have a right to self-determine; it's simply then a question of what route they take for that. Don't know the detail exactly but there are some not totally different situations involving the Netherlands and some of the territories in the Caribbean, and of course there's Greenland and Denmark. These are all not dissimilar and in the case of Greenland, before their most recent constitutional development, officials from there came here - guests of the New Zealand government - and also visited the Cooks. So the model is out there, yeah, and other states do look at it. Maybe even some interest groups in Puerto Rico.
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