OPINION: ‘It takes courage to disagree with the government’

Monday 11 January 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: ‘It takes courage to disagree with the government’
Opposition Leader Tina Browne. PHOTO: CI NEWS. 20022835

There is a moving scene from 2020 that struck me deeply. I will carry it with me for a long time, writes Opposition leader Tina Browne.

It was seeing two young mothers, pushing their toddlers in prams along the main road of Avarua, followed closely by their other children. All the children were under the age of 10. Other young mums walked with demonstrators, leading their young ones by the hand. The young mums had joined a public demonstration in our main township against the adding of chemicals to the Rarotonga water supply; they also objected to the To Tatou Vai Bill.

As a mother and grandmother, the sight of those young women taking to the main road with their children, conveyed the strongest of messages. That is takes courage to disagree with the government and make your convictions publicly known. The courage of those young mums should remind us all that small steps taken in the right direction, can bring about change for the better, the beginnings of building a better apopo for our tamariki.

These same women again turned up at the vaka consultations, to express their well-researched and justified concerns about the controversial To Tatou Vai Bill – which contained wide sweeping laws that would, amongst many things, encroach on landownership, traditional values and our culture. These young mums and the many others who objected to the To Tatou Vai Bill can take some satisfaction from the assurance it will be redrafted and represented to our vaka communities for a further round of consultations. The same applies to the Agriculture Bill. It started with small steps to stop something that was wrong, and initiate the change that will improve laws which apply to us in the Cook Islands.

It must be asked why the government has attempted to introduce laws that would threaten and take away our civil liberties. One can only conclude that the government does not know what making our people a priority actually looks like? Does government even understand what the word priority means, when ascribed to our people and not just their own supporters.

What has become very evident is this; the government knows how to prioritise their own materialistic needs above those of our country. Look at the resources they spend on themselves, thousands spent on luxurious offices, expensive four-wheel drive vehicles, the many appointments of people in critical roles without the necessary experience to give our people the confidence that they are in good and capable hands.

In a global pandemic, what has separated countries that have fared well from those that have recorded thousands of deaths and plummeting economies, has been key people at the top their health sector. Such as Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the NZ Director-General of Health. A hugely qualified man with a vast medical background. Combined with the support of his medical colleagues and the Prime Minister, Dr Bloomfield has been the face and voice of the health response for New Zealand. His expertise and keen medical advice have helped New Zealand navigate its way through this pandemic through to the other side with minimal deaths. New Zealand has set an example for the rest of the world.

We must emulate NZ’s example when appointing a permanent head to lead our Te Marae Ora – ministry of Health. We cannot put our people and country at huge risk by compromising the appointment of a new Secretary of Health. We need the best possible person in this critical role. A person who will not be compromised by politics, who will not be afraid to disagree with Cabinet and put our people first, a person who will be honorable and have the public interest at the forefront – all the time.

Appointing someone who is less qualified and experienced than what is required of the position of Secretary of Health would be a huge disservice to our country and people. The government should be aware that the Opposition and our people are watching how this vacancy will be filled with the greatest interest. If this government persists on doing what it has always done and make an appointment based on politics, the Opposition will vigorously protest and let the world know that it is unacceptable.

And I am reminded of these simple yet powerful words of former Prime Minister and Democratic Party leader Sir Tom Davis, who on March 29, 1978 in a meeting in Rarotonga said, “our country needs a change of government”.

We need that same change now. A change because we face yet again the crisis created by a self-serving government that does not listen to the voice of its people. Ten years on, we have a government that blatantly rewards its supporters and punishes those that don’t. A government that has denied the progression of democracy through national petitions. A government which has ignored the voice of the people. A government that gives with one hand and takes with the other. And thinks that this can just carry on.

It is 2021, and as we face these critical internal issues yet again and work together to protect our borders, economy and people from a global pandemic, I submit to our people “we are again approaching a time for change”. And like those young mums who took to the main road, pushing their babies in prams followed by their young ones, the best change often begins with brave, small steps.