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Demos not just paying lip service

Monday March 19, 2018 Written by Published in Tropical Chronicles
Auckland-based former Prime Minister Dr Joseph Williams fi rst gained election to the Cook Islands parliament as an ‘overseas MP’, representing Cook Islanders living abroad. 16110446 Auckland-based former Prime Minister Dr Joseph Williams fi rst gained election to the Cook Islands parliament as an ‘overseas MP’, representing Cook Islanders living abroad. 16110446

There are two things I would like to deal with in this column. The first is the notion that the Democratic Party is just paying lip service to the idea of political reform.

This was raised by a letter writer to criticise the notion of an independent electoral commission being set up to look into and then carve a way forward.

It was obvious that the problem the letter writer sees is that ultimately the decisions and recommendations by such an electoral commission will die a natural death when they are put to parliament to implement.

Parliamentarians will simply not, for example, implement cutting the number of parliamentary seats in our country.

The writer presumes that with a political party such as the Democratic Party, where two of its leaders (one being the party leader and the other a former party leader) are vying to be elected in constituencies (one with less than 100 electors and the other just over), the likelihood of them voting to cut seats are remote. That of course is a presumption, a discouraging one when for once the Cook Islands might have some traction when it comes to political or parliamentary reform.

The writer of course does not propose an alternative and therefore her views are self-defeating and properly driven purely by the political position she has taken, where once she did a stint in the Democratic Party camp with the sole purpose to get elected under that banner, but lost out in the selection process by the constituency she was keen to get elected in.

Now that is not to say that she cannot have an opinion to make public, but that discolours how genuine her views are and points more to her being motivated by an agenda to discredit the Democratic Party. I can certainly point to a dossier of anti-Democratic Party views and opinions since her self-removal from the Democratic Party.

But let me add this to the fray. This letter writer was the one that provided the vote needed to eliminate the overseas seat that was then held by the Auckland-based Dr Joseph Williams.

That’s my record of courage, when after all the huff and puff to have it eliminated there was a change of heart by one political party who had promised the public that it would do the deed.

Who knows? Perhaps there was a deal at the time between the Democratic Party and the Cook Islands Party to bluff the people, knowing full well that the government would not have the numbers and the opposition would not support.

But on the day the vote was called I told my leader at the time that I could not renege on what was told to the public and I would vote in favour of cutting the seat.

I won’t tell more about what happened to me afterwards. I was only a year and a bit as an MP but I was proud of it. That incident shaped my political outlook and it is possible to do such a deed if the best interest of the people is first and foremost.

Unfortunately, what the writer is suggesting is like killing the goose before it lays its egg. That’s a defeatist attitude.

Of course, as it stands now, incumbent MPs – particularly those with reduced numbers below 100 – will be nervous about committing hara-kiri and they will argue that they want to retain their constituencies in the spirit of being represented. But that is the challenge and it would be better for an independent commission to decide on the configuration of parliament.

The notion of doing away with seats was one proposed several decades ago by the then Political Reform Commission headed by Iaveta Short, and since then there has been the adoption of MMP in New Zealand – and Niue’s structure seems to work, where they have more MPs than we do for a population smaller than ours by several thousands.

Let me now turn to issues raised by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne regarding the danger that the Democratic Party is signalling to the public through the letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Arden that was published in the Cook Islands News.

He says that no one – certainly not him – wants the Cook Islands to be subservient to New Zealand and to be ruled again by New Zealand. Well, he seems to suggest that. In turn I am just being blunt about it.

I have to exclaim in astonishment at this notion. I must also say that after all of this time since he has been press officer for the Prime Minister, Mr Wynne appears to have found his political feet because he for once has a sting in his pen.

That was refreshing, purely in terms of journalism, but that does not necessarily mean that a letter of this nature could roll back the huge steps towards self-determination taken by our political forefathers and foremothers. That would be tantamount to ceding our right of self-government.

I’m sure Mr Wynne would have read my coverage of the views of academics focusing on the constitutional and political development of the Cook Islands in my column last week about the meaning of the Cook Islands having “self-government in free association with New Zealand”. They see the Cook Islands as being on equal terms with New Zealand in their relationship and the Cook Islands Parliament having the power to even legislate over its foreign affairs direction, even to be a member of the United Nations. New Zealand has no power by way of its parliament to pass legislation to nullify Cook Islands legislation.

However, let me point this out though. Mr James Beer, who I assume crafted and signed the letter to Ardern, is not a free agent and not without rebuke or opposition from within the Democratic Party.

If there are issues that members of the Democratic Party such as me and others disagree with, then such disagreement will be brought to Mr Beer’s attention.

The Democratic Party operates democratically and is open to members to raise issues of concern.

Certainly, I can say in no uncertain terms that the Democratic Party will not roll back the years and bring back colonial administration. Those days are long gone.