Portable super for NZ realm countries pass, but chairman Alfred Ngaro criticized
The committee stage of the Social Assistance (Portability to Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau) Bill was completed earlier this week with cross party agreement.
However, efforts to make it more generous, through amendments tabled by NZ First, were voted down.
The defeat caused Labour’s Pacific spokesperson Su’a William Sio to be highly critical of Committee chairperson, Alfred Ngaro, a Cook Islander, saying “Alfred Ngaro continues to live up to the meaning of his name [in Samoan it means ‘forgotten’].”
Su’a told Pacific Guardians, “Ngaro continues to ‘forget’ that these islands are members of New Zealand’s realm. He should be ashamed of his stance.
“Instead of using his role to convince his Government of the merits of recognizing the realm island countries as citizens of New Zealand entitled to all the rights and privileges of a full New Zealand citizen, he fails the Pacific in his stance, especially the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.”
In an earlier statement, Su’a emphasized, “…the House needs to be quite clear in its thinking that we are talking about New Zealand citizens living on New Zealand soil, not on a distant island that is not part of the Realm of New Zealand. I can accept that for Samoa and Tonga, despite what they might wish. But, firstly, these are forgotten New Zealanders, who must be recognised and acknowledged as full-bloom New Zealand citizens.”
The Bill as it stands gives greater portability of superannuation to those from the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau who are holders of New Zealand citizenship. Under the Bill a person from those places who has lived in New Zealand for 10 years, five of them after the age of 50, will be able to return to those islands and when they turn 65 they can then apply for Superannuation or Veteran’s Pension.
To gain 50 percent of NZ super entitlement a person has to have worked in New Zealand for ten years; and 20 years for 100 percent.
It is the ‘five after 50 years’ rule that was the key focus of the NZ First amendments. It called for the removal of the requirement for Cook Islanders, Tokelauans, Niueans to have to live in NZ for five years after the age of 50 to qualify. NZ First leader, Mr Winston Peters, argued that residents of the Realm islands are New Zealanders and should be treated the same and given eligibility on the same basis.
Opposition MPs aligned with NZ First said the amendment would be in line with the sacrifices and value that past generations from these islands rendered the New Zealand empire. These included some 500 Cook Islanders and 150-plus Niueans who fought in the First World War.
Government officials estimated the cost of administering the scheme if the clause was removed to be between “$9 million to $21 million”. According to Labour MP, Ms Poto Williams, the first Cook Islands woman to be elected into New Zealand parliament, “In terms of the value of the contribution of the people of the Realm to this country, I would say that that is fairly small change—$9 million to $21 million,” she told the House.
The amendment would have also helped solve the main challenge facing the islands of Niue, Cook Islands and Tokelau – depopulation. The amendment would have provided an opportunity for much needed economic and social benefits to fight depopulation; at the same time, it would have benefitted New Zealand ultimately where the trade imbalance is estimated at 98:2 ratio with these countries.
But even with personal submissions that included the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Henry Puna and Niue Premier, Toke Talagi, the amendments were voted down by National, Maori Party, ACT and United Future.
The Government’s argument, led by Mr Ngaro stated that the bill as it stands puts people of the Realm Islands on the same basis as other New Zealanders who were also required to spend five years in New Zealand between the age of 50 and 65 in order to qualify for superannuation.
The other important issue Mr Ngaro pointed out is of a special social security agreement New Zealand has with other countries in administering its superannuation scheme.
“There is a reciprocal arrangement, financially, that those countries can pay back,” said Mr Ngaro.
“So there is an issue here, and the reasons we considered in the committee and the advice that was given is that there is a reciprocal arrangement that can be made with those other countries. In those Pacific nations, in particular, they are not able to make that financial contribution or reciprocate that financially, and hence the reason why we think this legislation is important.
“We believe that the bill is actually equitable. We believe that the bill gives consideration to the special arrangement, and we believe that that is critically important for what we are doing to try to achieve that. We know that the costs are achievable for us.
“If we were to remove that, not only would it be inequitable for other New Zealanders, who still have to obey the 5 years after 50 rule, but also it would mean that it opens up quite a precedent for us that could, actually, broaden both the cost and the ability to be able to administer that back in the Pacific as well.”