5 Sep 2013

New Zealand's realm countries tentatively celebrate new pension rules

4:43 pm on 5 September 2013

The Cook Islands has welcomed changes to the superannuation portability for New Zealanders retiring to the realm countries.

After many years of campaigning by the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, the New Zealand government recently announced it would make it easier to collect the pension.

But some say there is little detail in the policy and are demanding more clarity before next year's election.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Currently, those wishing to retire to the realm countries have to be 'resident and present' in New Zealand at the age of 65. But under the new policy they can head to the islands at 55, as long as they have been resident and present for 10 years, including 5 years from the age of 50. The Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna says he can now attract his people back home to work and contribute to the economy.

"HENRY PUNA: It recognises what we've argued all along, that once you qualify for the New Zealand pension, or super, residents in the realm countries should amount to residents in New Zealand. That is a massive step forward and I'm very very happy with that."

But Robert Woonton, a former Cook Islands Prime Minister and an advisor to Auckland City Council, says more clarity is needed from the Government. The changes are due to take effect mid-2015, and Mr Woonton says it may be an election issue.

ROBERT WOONTON: There is a perception out there that perhaps this is a carrot that's dangling in front of Pacific islanders to politically change their views. If the intention was to change it, change it now, before the election.

The Premier of Niue says the condition to have lived in New Zealand for 10 years is still unfair, and Niueans should be treated as the New Zealand citizens they are.

TOKE TALAGI: It doesn't go far enough. I was hoping that they will allow all citizens in the realm to be eligible for the pensions they enjoy here in New Zealand. I think it's an excellent step, it's just that I don't think it went far enough, but I'm very pleased that they have done this.

Robert Woonton says there is no reason people should be treated differently from those citizens in the Chathams or Australia.

ROBERT WOONTON: They feel disenfranchised. They feel they are being treated as lesser citizens as mainstream Kiwis. They're putting us in a subclass, rather than treating us as equals right across the board.

Dr Joe Williams, another former Cook Islands prime minister, says it's a healthy option to return home and it should be encouraged. He says at 55 people are still active, and some will earn more in the Cooks, a country he says has a problem maintaining its population.

JOE WILLIAMS: We face the depopulation problem right now. People have been leaving the islands in droves for many, many years. And now we're just beginning to realise the impact of depopulation there. People leave and you've got a shrinking economy.

Dr Williams says the numbers involved are not big by New Zealand standards, but even the return of 100 people will make a difference in the islands.