Dame Makea Karika Margaret Ariki and other members of the Aronga Mana lead the most recent protest march against purse seining. PHOTO: CI NEWS/16061728
The following comments are made, in part, as a response to the statements made by Prime Minister Mark Brown on Cook Islands Television on March 1, 2022.
This was in relation to
the recent hearing of the purse seine fishing case at the Privy Council in
London in November 2021, with the judgment handed down on February 28, 2022.
This was following cases
in the Cook Islands High Court in 2017 and an appeal to the Cook Islands Court
of Appeal in 2018.
It was very misleading of
the Prime Minister to say that our case had been thrown out by the Privy Council.
This suggests that our case had no merit.
Obviously that is not true,
as we won important aspects of this case in the Cook Islands Court of Appeal in
The Privy Council in fact
gave the case very careful consideration and also agreed with certain aspects
of the Court of Appeal opinion, particularly on the value of consultation with
the Aronga Mana (traditional leaders).
It was also a gross
misrepresentation of the facts for the PM to state that we took the Cook
Islands people along with the government to court.
Te Ipukarea Society,
along with William Framhein acting on behalf of the Aronga Mana of Te au o
Tonga, took only the government to court, and we were acting on behalf of the people.
This included over 4000
resident Cook Islanders from throughout the country who signed a petition
asking government not to allow purse seine fishing in our waters.
The same petition
promoted by hundreds of people marching in the streets and chanting “auraka e
kupenga” with Dame Margaret Karika proudly leading from the front. The same
petition which Government dismissed after a one sided select committee hearing.
We agree that taking the
case all the way to the Privy Council was extreme, and costly. However, it was
in fact the government that took the issues of environmental impact assessment
and precautionary approach to the Privy Council, having lost that very
important part of the case in the Cook Islands Court of Appeal.
William Framhein, acting
on behalf of the Aronga Mana of Te Au o Tonga, and also appealed some of the
Court of Appeal ruling. That was in regard to the Aronga Mana being key
stakeholders, who should be consulted in matters regarding management of our
Both the Aronga Mana of
Te au o Tonga and Te Ipukarea Society maintain they should be considered key
stakeholders, and that challenging that decision of the Court of Appeal was
The fact that this case
made it all the way to the Privy Council should demonstrate to the government
that Te Ipukarea Society and the Aronga Mana both need to be considered key
In fact, we believe the
whole legal challenge, costly and stressful for us all, would never have been
needed if only Government had been more transparent and consultative in the
Although conceding that
the Privy Council ruled, under the strict letter of the law, that government
did not have to consult with the Aronga mana, this was because the Aronga
Mana’s rights have been removed under the Marine Resources Act.
The High Court, Court of
Appeal and the Privy Council all encouraged a greater level of consultation by
The PM also said the
Privy Council ruling showed that the Cook Islands has followed the Constitution
and law in regard to the purse seine fishery in the Cook Islands.
Again, not true.
In fact, the Cook Islands
Court of Appeal in 2018 ruled that government was in breach of the law, in
failing to conduct a review of the 2013 Purse Seine Fishery Plan every two
They were ordered to
undertake a review within 12 months of the September 2018 Court of Appeal judgement.
Government did not appeal
that ruling yet continue to be in breach of this legal obligation.
We call upon the government
to remedy that and include the community as part of that and future
Despite the results in
the Privy Council, the Cook Islands government should not take a narrow,
legalistic view of its obligations.
It should not hide behind
the legislation it has passed to cut out the wider Cook Islands community from
management of its most important resources.
Only by including the
community can sound decisions be made.
remain boosted by the fact that we did have a major victory in the Cook Islands
Court of Appeal in 2018. We believe this is a court closer to the realities of
indigenous rights and natural resources in our region.
Privy Council meanwhile has been described in the literature as
a relic of the colonial past which should no longer decide a nation’s most
important legal issues.
We are unsure what the
motivation of the Prime Minister was for attempting to discredit the work Te
Ipukarea Society does on behalf of our people and environment.
Belittling the work and
opinions of many of the voting public is petty and invalidating.
Te Ipukarea Society will
continue to represent the voice of the people on environmental issues and will
always advocate for improved transparency and accountability in the Cook
We invite the PM as well
as anyone else to visit our website at tiscookislands.org to see more on the
work we do for the people.