23 Oct 2009

MP urges end to self-government in Pacific nations

9:12 pm on 23 October 2009

The head of the Foreign Affairs select committee of the New Zealand Parliament wants to end self-government in the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

National MP and former diplomat John Hayes says self-government in the islands is "nonsense stuff" and it should be sorted out.

Tokelau is a New Zealand territory, while Niue and the Cooks Islands are self-governing in free association with New Zealand.

All three have New Zealand citizenship. New Zealand retains responsibility for their external affairs and defence and provides them with substantial economic assistance.

Mr Hayes says New Zealand currently gives $NZ40 million from its aid programme to the islands and believes their leaders are ripping off the people.

He told Morning Report on Friday this money is being wasted in the political systems there. If New Zealand had the same number of politicians as the Cook Islands, Auckland would have 2000 MPs.

Mr Hayes believed New Zealand's aid programme should be scrapped and the only people who would be annoyed were "the leaders and a few bureaucrats living off the backs of hard-working people".

He said this idea is his own thinking at the moment, but he hoped the select committee will pick up on it.

Mr Hayes said he wanted no changes in the constitutional status of the Pacific Island nations but issues including depopulation must be addressed, along with poor infrastructure.

MP's view patronising, says Labour

The Labour Party says Mr Hayes' views are ill-informed and patronising.

Foreign affairs spokesperson Chris Carter said Mr Hayes' comments have damaged New Zealand's relations with Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

He said given the changing politics of the region and the willingness of countries with deep pockets to offer aid, the comments may cause problems for New Zealand and its influence.

Mr Carter says the politics of the region are changing and there are other countries with deep pockets willing to offer aid.