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LETTER: Have we earned our NZ citizenship, or not?

Monday 12 December 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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LETTER: Have we earned our NZ citizenship, or not?

If the Cooks wanted to become a sovereign nation, it needed its own citizenship. Cook Islanders would remain New Zealand citizens but "if they want to change it, they can." Then Prime Minister Helen Clark said in June 2001 "If they want to exert full independence, New Zealand will not stand in their way."

Nonetheless, after Ms Clark departed, New Zealand officials in Rarotonga are understood to have made Zealand's position abundantly clear at the time - declare independence and lose your right to New Zealand citizenship.

In June 2015, John Key, then New Zealand PM said that New Zealand is not in a position to support Cook Islands membership of the UN under the Cooks Islands' current constitutional status, if the Cook Islands wants UN membership, the constitutional relationship, including the current shared citizenship will need to change. What should be clear is that New Zealand’s position, and one they have held since the exchange of letters between Norman Kirk and Albert Henry, Helen Clark and Terepai Maoate, Henry Puna and John Key and now Mark Brown and Nanaia Mahuta, is that we are in their view, actually neither sovereign and nor independent. The Cook Islands is a part of the Realm of New Zealand and is self-governing in free association with New Zealand.  That is a status distinct, in New Zealand’s mind from full independence or actual self-governing, but is their position one of a benevolent co-partner or a tired old colonial world view that New Zealand retains in our legal and constitutional construction we call free association..

In a paper written by Wiliame Gucake called The Cook Islands within the Realm: A Storm Cloud with No Rain, he states that the terminology of a “Realm” was devised by Quentin-Baxter, then legal consultant to the New Zealand Prime Minister's Department which led the review of the Letters Patent 1917 and the fashioning of the Letters Patent 1983. Once again the decision by Makea and Ngamaru along with Premier Seddon’s desire for colony building, and to constitute ourselves with the then New Zealand Dominion, is reaped like the wind, when Letters Patent were drafted by New Zealand in 1983, and something that should be taught, along with our history to every child in the Cook Islands.

As Quentin-Baxter explains in this paper, E tumurangi matangi ra i ua, this reflects the “clear implication (that) New Zealand itself is a “Realm”, comprising all the countries and territories within the territorial sovereignty of the Queen in the right of New Zealand”. The Realm while constitutionally important, has no separate international legal personality, being, “a 'symbolic term' that reflects the shared history, values, and Head of State of its constituent parts.”

Interestingly at Clause 1 of these Letters Patent 1983, it says We do hereby constitute, order, and declare that there shall be, in and over Our Realm of New Zealand, which comprises— (a) New Zealand; and (b) The self-governing state of the Cook Islands; and (c) The self-governing state of Niue; and (d) Tokelau; and (e) The Ross Dependency— a Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief who shall be Our representative in Our Realm of New Zealand.

Are the Cook Islands self-governing, and if we are we, are we not then also sovereign, even if it is in the cluster of this realm described by Quentin Baxter as these linkages provide legitimacy to the shared rights of citizenship across all parts of the Realm. The shared rights of citizenship, he continues and important for this current debate, however, do not and should not undermine the self-governing status of the Cook Islands and Niue, and do not connote New Zealand as a federal state. Which is why the Prime Minister of New Zealand is not Prime Minister of the Realm, and the Head of State of the Cook Islands is not the Governor General of New Zealand.

So where does that then leave us if the Letters Patent 1983 show clearly our independence, and demonstrates that even within this realm we are self-governing. Both aspects of our statehood, that New Zealand neither recognises or fully acknowledges, despite its rhetoric, without holding our mutual citizenship as mutually exclusive to our current and historical settings. The Queen therefore has distinct individual relationships with the Cook Islands and Niue within the Realm and why we have a King’s representative and New Zealand a Governor General.

This distinction needs to be held up as clear and definite separation of state and their relationship with the Crown as Sovereign – because despite New Zealand exerting its partnership as part of the Realm with the Cook Islands and Niue, as that of the Coloniser over the colony, which it does by holding us to ransom with our New Zealand citizenship, our relationship with the Queen as individual countries clearly demonstrates this separate Statehood and self-determination as a realm country.

Te Iu Manamanatā

(Name and address supplied)