Niue marks 40 years of independence
Niue over the next few days is marking the fortieth anniversary of its achievement of self government from New Zealand.
Niue achieved independence in free association with New Zealand 40 years ago this month.
The island has gone through some turbulent times since, losing two thirds of its population, often struggled financially and experienced a host of often hair brained schemes to try and develop businesses.
But people spoken to by Don Wiseman say the limited independence has been worthwhile and there has been significant development.
The desire for independence but retaining significant links with New Zealand was driven by the islanders, as Matua Robert Rex explains. The son of the country's first premier says Niue's leaders put the case at the United Nations - he says it was fantastic and a beautiful thing.
MATUA ROBERT REX: In those days everyone was trying, I mean United Nations and a lot of nations were trying to say that these countries, like French Polynesia, the Cook Islands - they got it done in 1965 I think - to acknowledge themselves as self governing in free association. That they can govern their country but have the free association with their counterparts like we have, and we still maintain that, with New Zealand. And it's beautiful and we are happy.
Businessman, politician and diplomat Hima Douglas says it was time.
HIMA DOUGLAS: Sooner or later it was time for Niueans to take over their own little island and run it themselves. Some people would say we were not quite ready, others that it was long overdue. But by and large it has worked well.
Niue's High Commissioner to New Zealand, O'Love Jacobsen, says the impact of the 40 years of self government has been clear.
O'LOVE JACOBSEN: You can see a change in terms of the infrastructure that has gone into the place. You can see also that there has been development in human resource.
MP Terry Coe, who has lived and worked on Niue for many years, says the degree of self reliance has not changed through this time with the government still dependent on budget support from New Zealand.
He says there is about seven million dollars in recurrent budget support and perhaps double that in project funding.
TERRY COE: So we are still relying on New Zealand for those things and there are also they other donors, like Australia, China and India. Those who are doing us small projects but still it all adds up. But you know our roads are terrible and we need to fix the roads but we are trying to put it off until we do the airport, which is in another 3 or 4 years time. Those things will definitely help the people here.
Trying to create a viable economy has been a tough call for years. Glove manufacturing, uranium, copper and gold mining, medical tourism and alpaca quarantining for New Zealand have all been suggested. A heavily subsidised fish factory hardly got off the ground. There is some farming, including noni juice production, but the island's economic future seems to be tourism and associated industries. At independence Niue's population was more than four thousand - for the past 10 years or so it has hovered around 1600, with people typically leaving for New Zealand in search of work. Ironically, there is now a labour shortage on the island as attempts to develop the tourism sector start to bear fruit. If this growth spurs people into returning to the island - there are 22,000 Niueans in New Zealand alone - Mrs Jacobsen says full independence might be a possibility.
O'LOVE JACOBSEN: Once we pick up our numbers then maybe yes we will be looking in that direction but right now with a thousand 600, no I think we would be pushing it and I don't think we would be doing ourselves a favour.
The Premier Toke Talagi says the effort to develop a flourishing tourism sector is a 12 to 15 year project. In the first year or so it has been spectacular with a lift in numbers of 50 percent and a deal with Air New Zealand from this year for two flights a week during the peak season. Granby Ray Siakimotu is a Niuean community leader who has lived in Auckland for many years. I asked him what is needed to encourage people back to the island.
GRANBY RAY SIAKIMOTU: Means of getting income and housing and all that kind of situation will certainly help the feeling of some people who are here [in New Zealand] to say Oh I think it is good now for me to go back to Niue.
Hima Douglas says right from the start it was made clear New Zealand would never abandon Niue. He says this may have fostered an over dependence and a different approach from the beginning might have been better.
HIMA DOUGLAS: We may have been forced to become a little less reliant on aid from New Zealand. Younger people now are beginning to realise that and I think they have taken on board that we have got to try and help ourselves first. And perhaps we may not be able to do it but at least let's give it a good go.
Terry Coe says there has to be more encouragement for the private sector but the government scheme putting the public sector on a four-day week and paying them for five is not helping. He says people do not want to leave the public service.
TERRY COE: So the development in the private sector is quite slow. We are getting the tourists - that is a very good thing - number of tourists is coming up but we have got to keep on pushing the tourism one and making our infrastructure for tourism a lot better than what it is.
Niue is marking the anniversary with public holidays on Monday and Tuesday. In New Zealand there are a series of events planned throughout the country over this weekend.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: