7 Mar 2018

Govt reviews pension rules for Niue and Cook Islands

10:09 am on 7 March 2018

The government is looking at its pension rules to see if it can improve access for New Zealanders living in Niue and the Cook Islands.

Jacinda Ardern inspects a police Guard of Honour during her visit to Niue.

Jacinda Ardern inspects a police Guard of Honour during her visit to Niue. Photo: Pool photo / Michael Craig / New Zealand Herald

Niue Premier Toke Talagi raised concerns with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday, saying too many people were leaving for New Zealand so they could access their superannuation.

That is all part of the island's plan to be self-sustaining and rely on New Zealand less.

As part of that, Ms Ardern announced nearly $750,000 for improvements to Niue's roads and water as well as a further $5 million for a solar energy programme.

Another problem is the population of Niue which has only started to stabilise - it had previously been shrinking.

In Niue many of the teenagers leave for university overseas - particularly in New Zealand - and never come back.

This is reflected in the statistics - roughly 24,000 Niueans live in New Zealand with only 1500 on the single island nation.

Niue School principal Charles Ioane said the country needed to provide more incentives for Niueans to return.

"Obviously with the population that we have, we can't do much for long. So it's really important that the youth come back," he said.

Ms Ardern said she was sympathetic as many countries in the Pacific struggled with that problem.

"In different ways, New Zealand has had this debate before in reference to the brain drain.

"Every small island nation of course wants to make sure they hold on to their young people, their best and brightest," she said.

Niue Premier Toke Talagi said one way to keep people in the country was to address the pension.

At the moment anyone wanting to access superannuation had to be living in New Zealand for at least five years - despite Niueans being New Zealand citizens.

"We are New Zealand citizens, we are part of the realm, as a consequence of this there needs to be a discussion around what defines that," Mr Talagi said.

Ms Ardern said work was being done around pension portability, but wouldn't give away any details or say when an announcement would be made.

Today Ms Ardern is in Tonga, where the focus will be on the damage from Cyclone Gita.

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