Opposition opposes the Ombudsman Bill amendment. Photo: Caleb Fotheringham/ 22052726
A Bill removing the compulsory resignation of the nation’s Ombudsman at the age of 72 – to enable the current Ombudsman to keep her role – passed its third reading in Parliament on Friday without the Opposition’s support.
The Ombudsman Amendment Bill removes the forced retirement age for the Ombudsman.
The Opposition Democratic Party voted against the passing
of the Bill in its second and third reading on Friday.
Leader of the Opposition Tina Browne told Cook Islands
News she was against the Bill because it was preventing younger people moving
into the position.
“We’re encouraging our own people to move upwards and
when you’ve got elderly people in those positions, I see it as blocking,”
“Our policy is we will encourage succession, we will
encourage young people to move up and I just see it (the Bill) as a barrier,
limiting the chances of people below.”
Browne also said the Bill was amended to just suit one
“I feel very uncomfortable in amending legislation to
suit people,” she said.
Browne said the current Ombudsman – Niki Rattle – would
turn 72 in January next year.
“The constitution speaks about sex, religion, where you
come from, there’s no discrimination against age.”
Democratic Party member Selina Napa shared her leader’s
“For me we have so many young Cook Islanders who are
qualified, wanting to come home and are looking for a job that can probably fit
this position,” Napa said.
She said Parliament earlier passed a bill which forced Justices
of the Peace to retire at 70 which was supported by both parties.
“What is the difference for this bill in terms of age?
“To me it should be constant across the board, if the JPs
work to 70 then retire so be it with everyone else.”
Government MP Albert Nicholas from the Cook Islands Party
in Parliament said the current Ombudsman
retirement rule was discriminatory.
“One should not be judged by one’s age, but rather on
one’s ability, wisdom and experience, and I do not think anybody could dispute
the current Ombudsman.”
The Minister of Tourism Patrick Arioka also called out
“Just listening to the comments from the Opposition it
concerns me in a very, very big way,” Arioka said.
“Regardless of what it is, we are all for our young
people growing up to the ranks but we need to make sure those young people who
climb up the ranks has previous ability.”
Arioka said if prohibiting discrimination based on age
was not in the Cook Islands Constitution, “it needed to be”.
He said if the Opposition wanted to restrict the peoples
working age, it should start by restricting the age of the Members of
Prime Minister Mark Brown said the old legislation
discriminated against a person’s age.
“These were laws that were passed last century at a time
where removing great discrimination in our society was not really apparent.”
Brown said he found it strange that last year the
Opposition supported the removal of the age requirement for the police.
“But this year they don't support the removal from the Ombudsman
Act, seems to be more of a personal issue than policy issue.
“It sounds like the qualifying position for this job if
the Opposition was to appoint it is you have to be young.”
Brown also alluded to removing the law which required JPs
to retire when they reached 70.
In March last year, Parliament agreed to remove compulsory
retirement at the age of 60 years for members of the police to accommodate the
incoming Police Commissioner.
With the support of the Opposition, Government amended
the Police Act to remove the retirement age of 60, to pave way for the new
Prime Minister Brown, who is also the Minister for
Police, tabled the Police Amendment Bill seeking to repeal section 35 of the
Police Act which relates to the compulsory retirement of police, at the age of
“Our incoming Police Commissioner would not be eligible
because he is a youthful early 60s,” Brown then said,
“And the effect of this amendment is that the members of
the police will no longer be required to retire at the age of 60.”
Brown said the amendment was consistent with countries
such as New Zealand and Australia where there “is no mandatory retirement age”
In April last year, Brown announced Turepu James Keenan
as the new Cook Islands Police Commissioner.