Photo: Sam Sutherland, courtesy of Auckland Pride Festival/21030543
Same sex rights groups are expressing guarded optimism after Government disclosed that work is underway to ensure new criminal legislation will not contain clauses that discriminate against any Cook Islander or resident.
The Government has revealed the Crimes Bill – a proposed
piece of legislation that updates the existing criminal code – is currently
being reviewed by one of New Zealand’s foremost public legal authorities.
The prospective bill is a sweeping piece of legislation
drafted in 2017 that in its current form decriminalises homosexuality in the
The current law says the offence of “indecent acts” between
two males is punishable by up to five years in prison.
“My understanding is that the Crimes Bill has been referred
to the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) in New Zealand for final draft and to
ensure that it does not contain any clauses that discriminate,” said Office of
the Prime Minister spokesperson Jaewynn McKay.
The Parliamentary Counsel Office is New Zealand’s law
drafting office and writes and publishes the country’s bills and legislation.
The development comes after MPs on Monday granted another
extension of six months to a committee tasked with scrutinising the bill and
providing recommendations to Parliament after carrying out a series of public
An interim report prepared by the committee and submitted to
Parliament last November claims out of 167 submissions received during the
public consultation process, the “majority” wanted the status quo in place.
Karla Eggelton, president of Pride Cook Islands, said the
possibility that the bill could enshrine the rights of same-sex couples into
Cook Islands law was “welcome news” for the group and its allies, but will wait
for the committee to table its final report in Parliament.
“… we remain cautious given the history of flip-flopping on
this issue,” she said.
“We would prefer to wait for the ink to dry first. This means, regardless, we continue our
efforts in creating awareness, promoting human rights and equality and
providing support and a voice for our community.”
She said the group will continue its advocacy work over the
next six months in anticipation of “positive news”.
Government’s delaying tactics in moving forward with the
draft bill has drawn continued protests from community members fighting for
equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
The current draft of the bill does not include controversial
sections in the existing legislation, which labels “indecency between males” as
Nation’s reputation at stake
While observers await the select committee’s final report
and the opportunity to review the final wording of the bill, a tourism industry
leader says the nation’s reputation among travelers from New Zealand is at
Liana Scott, President of the Cook Islands Tourism Industry
Council, said the group’s stance on the issue has not changed since former
president, the late Sue Fletcher-Vea, wrote a submission to the committee
urging government to remove the provisions which criminalize homosexuality from
“The Council at the time had received a number of
communications from potential travellers stating that they would reconsider
their travel plans if nothing would change,” said Scott.
“Fast forward to now, more than a year later, surely being
that our biggest and to a certain extent only market is a world leader in terms
of human rights and same sex marriage is legal, we too should be embracing the spirit