A recommendation from the UN Security Council to the UN General Assembly is required for our UN membership to be accepted and New Zealand is on the Security Council. This is probably where New Zealand is exercising its Security Council membership clout by suggesting we surrender our New Zealand citizenship and become an independent nation if we as a country pursue UN membership.
The Cook Islands are already part of several UN subsidiary agencies, so the push for full UN Membership is the next logical step. It allows our country to gain greater access to more resources especially as we anticipate our country’s graduation to “developed country” status. It gives our country more freedom to voice concerns and take on a certain position on global issues while pursuing other development interests, without the threat of “big brother” New Zealand imposing their position and views on us.
The letter-writer “Concerned Citizen” has every right to raise their concerns in a public forum and I’m sure there are other Cook Islanders living at home and or abroad who may share similar views and would be asking if UN membership means we lose our New Zealand citizenship.
As Cook Islanders, we need to be informed and convinced that UN membership will in fact provide much-needed benefits and opportunities for us as a nation. We need to be clear on what greater access to resources means and what our responsibilities and obligations are in becoming a member of the UN.
If we decide that UN membership is what we need to pursue, there are events that need to take place first and there’s a process and timeframe involved if we as a country were to decide to become independent.
A referendum would need to take place if we want to make a decision to be independent or not. Further discussions and negotiations would need to take place between our government and the New Zealand government on this process and details and conditions involved. If the Cook Islands government decides to pursue UN membership and pressure continues to mount from New Zealand to relinquish our free association with them, we need to anticipate and accept certain realities.
As Cook Islanders, we won’t automatically lose our precious New Zealand citizenship once the Cook Islands become independent, because we have inherited this right under existing free association conditions.
Children born in the Cook Islands after independence is declared will perhaps be required to go through a process of applying for New Zealand citizenship because it will not be automatic at birth in the Cook Islands.
Cook Islanders with New Zealand citizenship living in New Zealand, Australia and other parts of the world shouldn’t be required to surrender their existing citizenship so there’s no need to over-react.
Concerned Citizen highlighted how independence could compromise our access to social welfare and medical referrals in New Zealand and also could restrict our freedom to travel. I believe these things will not be taken away from us just because our country becomes independent.
These factors have actually allowed us to become more dependent on New Zealand and there is no reason why we cannot strengthen our own capacity to deliver such services in the Cook Islands. Besides, the freedom of travel has allowed our country to export our most precious resource to New Zealand and Australia, and that is our people.
As part of this independence transition, a Cook Islands citizenship will need to be considered and dual citizenship would need to be negotiated with New Zealand as suggested by Finance minister Mark Brown Brown and surprisingly, Wilkie Rasmussen. Both agree dual citizenship may be the best way forward and could possibly allay some of the fears we may have about the status of our New Zealand citizenship.
Cook Islands citizenship conditions such as an in-country and on-going residency requirement, Maori language proficiency, good character and permanent residency status could help the country impose stronger requirements on land ownership, voting rights, business ownership, development and investments.
This would send a clear message to all Cook Islanders especially those living abroad, that Cook Islands citizenship requires us to be living at home if we want it and want to maintain it.
The reality is, there are a lot of things that need to take place before independence is granted and declared in the Cook Islands and there is no need to fear because it’s not going to happen overnight and our existing rights and citizenship will not be taken away from us. We also need to face some realities about our country, our population, the availability of land and land ownership, pursuing resources for economic development, country representation in a global setting and most importantly our identity.
The Cook Islands’ population continues to decline because of easy access to bigger employment markets in New Zealand and Australia. Our government continues to invest in much-needed infrastructure in the outer islands to hopefully provide a better quality of life for our people, but we need our people living there to create a market and economy in the outer islands. Our taxpayer numbers continue to decline as people migrate to New Zealand and Australia and pay their taxes there. Providing services in the Pa Enua is not feasible because of dwindling population numbers.
Maybe it’s time for Cook Islanders to accept that our reality as a people and country is different, depending on where we live.