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Peters vows to change Super law

Thursday June 01, 2017 Written by Published in Politics
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. 17060191 New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. 17060191

Cook Islands residents who qualify will be given the right to pick up their NZ Super without the controversial “five years back in New Zealand rule, if NZ First becomes a partner in the next government after the September 23 general election.

 

That’s according to party leader Winston Peters, who says the five-year residency rule is being unfairly applied to residents of Realm countries: the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

Speaking at the Forbury Racecourse in Dunedin, Peters said it was “an abject disgrace” that the National Party had said the country was unable to afford changing the rule.

“It will be available to only a few hundred yet (they) give full NZ Super to over 87,000 who have come to this country and acquire full NZ Super, and all its benefits, after just 10 years’ residence here, whether they have made any contribution or not.”

Unlike National and Labour, who he claimed had repeatedly back-tracked on NZ Super, NZ First had never diverted from its stand, Peters said.

In 2015 a new law was introduced in New Zealand to allow people in the Realm countries to return to the islands after the age of 55 and still get their pensions at 65.

Previously, a person had to be “resident and present” in New Zealand at the time of their application.

However, the move wasn’t seen as enough by New Zealand MP and Cook Islander Poto Williams, who said shortly after it was introduced that the Labour Party had not given up on further easing the way for retiring Cook Islanders to collect their NZ Super while living in the Cooks.

The issue is that to qualify for super payments, retirees need to have been resident and present in New Zealand for five years after the age of 50.

And pleas to the New Zealand government for change have fallen on deaf ears.

At a meeting in 2015 with prime minister John Key, who visited the country briefly during the Cook Islands 50-year commemoration of self-government in association with New Zealand, then Demo leader William Heather wrote an open letter to Key, saying Cook Islanders need a “hand up rather than a hand out from New Zealand.

Heather wrote that the present NZ Super law was “indirectly contributing to depopulation in the Cook Islands”.

It meant large numbers of Cook Islanders were leaving home late in life to head to New Zealand in order to qualify for superannuation - a move described as “counter-intuitive” given they often had no skill sets and ended up on the benefit system.

Key said it would be too costly for New Zealand to reduce the five-year residency requirement.

The issue came to the fore again earlier this year during a visit by outgoing New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

At a press conference on Rarotonga, McCully said advice given by New Zealand Treasury that relaxing the rules for Realm countries would be too costly had been proven wrong.

“The cost of this scheme to the New Zealand budget has been a fraction than what was originally forecast.”

And he said just 42 Cook Islanders had qualified under the new pension rules since 2013.

“I’m going to do what any sensible minister should do and that is, armed with the facts go back into the system.”

“I’ve always said when the facts are on the table, we will look at it again and the facts as we now have them have proven the representations of the prime minister (Henry Puna) and myself right and advice of the New Zealand Treasury wrong,” said McCully.

Prime minister Henry Puna said he intended to do “what any sensible PM will do, and that is help make that happen.”

Meanwhile, a NZ First source on Rarotonga said yesterday New Zealand had begun deducting savings from the Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund, which were private savings, from NZ Super payments.

“This is akin to means testing,” the source said.

“Winston also promises to remove that iniquity.”

            - Release/ CS