Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna has said he is happy with the steps that the New Zealand government has taken with the pension portability changes.
His comments, made at a press conference on Tuesday, come on the back of Niue Premier Sir Toke Talagi pulling his country’s support for the changes, which he labelled “discriminatory”.
While Talagi said that the changes did not go far enough, Puna was satisfied with the steps taken so far.
“I understand the position of my friend Toke Talagi. But he’s only talking about 1500 people, whereas we’re talking about thousands more here,” Puna said.
“The scale is different. What he’s asking for, in light of the new changes, is that residence in the realm countries should also qualify as residence in New Zealand. But I think that’s a stretch too far.”
He said that the Cook Islands should the grab the opportunity while it is there, and if there is a chance to take it further, that is something they will then pursue.
Finance minister Mark Brown also took the opportunity to point out that the proposed changes only take place past the age of 50 for a person returning to a realm country (Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau).
Past 50, people can now return to one of these countries to live and still qualify for the New Zealand pension.
However, the amount of time spent in New Zealand determines how much pension a person is eligible for.
“The ruling is that you have to have 20 years to have the full pension. If you are less than 20 years (but over 10) you have a partial pension,” Brown explained.
“The amendment recognises that the five years after the age of 50 can be completed in New Zealand or the realm countries. That’s what it does.”
Puna said that the important point for the Cook Islands is to observe the New Zealand rules.
“It’s a sovereign country and they are extending this to us on a limited basis. It has been good news for a lot of our people, who previously had to go back to New Zealand.”
Office of the Prime Minister chief of staff Bredina Drollet said that the previous cost was estimated at three million dollars, which was an overestimate.
“It came down to one million, but the cost of this change, they’ve got estimates around that as well, which is reflected in the first reading,” Drollet explained.
“But the really strong thing that came from the debate on the first reading was the recognition that we are a part of the realm of New Zealand. It was very strongly expressed.”
Brown explained that the million-dollar cost was a fraction of the New Zealand pension scheme, which costs in the billions each year.