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Members of the Special Committee
I am grateful for the opportunity to be here as you consider the “Question of Tokelau” and to present the perspective of New Zealand as administering power.
This is the second opportunity I have had to address this Committee as Administrator of Tokelau. A year ago I reviewed events involving Tokelau with particular focus on the forthcoming self-determination referendum set for October 2007.
It would be accurate to say that the past year has been an eventful one for Tokelau as well as for those in New Zealand responsible for our special relationship with Tokelau.
A year ago, speaking to this Committee, I emphasised that New Zealand respected the outcome of the February 2006 referendum. We understood that Tokelau’s leaders and the General Fono had strongly supported an act of self-determination that they hoped, indeed expected, would lead Tokelau to a new status of “self-governing in free association with New Zealand”. I also stated that New Zealand acknowledged that that referendum had not reached the level of support set by Tokelau’s General Fono for such a change of status.
In addressing this Committee I was also pleased to be able to confirm that, regardless of the outcome of the February 2006 referendum, New Zealand’s support for Tokelau continued unchanged. It would be substantial and assured. In fact shortly after speaking to you here a year ago, the text of a three year Economic Support Arrangement for Tokelau covering the period July 2007 to June 2010 was finalised. This provided Tokelau with substantially increased levels of financial support.
Addressing this Committee a year ago I also confirmed that New Zealand acknowledged and accepted the decision of Tokelau’s General Fono to move quickly to a second self-determination referendum, based on the same criteria as the first.
It is not my intention to dwell at any length on my remarks to this Committee a year ago. Allow me, however, to recall the closing paragraph of my statement as it encapsulates well, I believe, the nature of New Zealand’s relationship with and commitment toTokelau.
On that occasion I said”I do not know how long the position of Administrator of Tokelau will continue to exist. What is significant is that it is a question that lies in the hands of the people of Tokelau. That surely is testament to the commitment of New Zealand to decolonisation. Equally important is the ongoing commitment New Zealand makes to Tokelau, to stand with it whatever comes. Tokelau and New Zealand are tied by bonds of family and commitment. They will endure.”
Four months after addressing this Committee I was in Tokelau to witness the conduct of its second self-determination referendum. As members of this Committee will know, Tokelau’s leaders decided that the closeness of the outcome of the February 2006 referendum warranted a further opportunity for Tokelau’s voters to undertake an act of self-determination.
Preparations for this second referendum were just as thorough as for the February 2006 one. The voters on Tokelau’s three atolls were very well prepared to respond to the question: do you support Tokelau moving from the status of a territory of New Zealand to that of a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand? The criteria for this second referendum also remained the same. A majority of two-thirds of votes cast would be needed to trigger a change of status. This threshold, set by Tokelau’s General Fono, reflected clear recognition that a decision of this magnitude deserved to have the unequivocal support of the people of all three atolls.
I have spoken of the thoroughness and commitment of the Tokelau public service in preparing for the October referendum. It was exemplary. Tokelau’s leaders also reached out to the wider Tokelauan community outside the atolls – in New Zealand, Australia, American Samoa and Samoa. The family of Tokelau was fully informed of the proposal being voted on.
The conduct of a referendum of this type was not, of course, a Tokelauan event alone. Both Tokelau and New Zealand wished to ensure that it, like the earlier one, was conducted to the standards set by the United Nations for such events. I wish to record our appreciation for the support of this Committee for its participation in the person of Ambassador Robert Aisi, Permanent Representative of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations. Representatives of the Decolonisation Unit as well as the Electoral Assistance Division also participated as did an officer from the United Nations Information Centre in Australia.
Together with a range of journalists and other media, we were a sizeable group as we headed north from Apia in Samoa for the 30 hour sea voyage to the southern-most atoll of Fakaofo. Voting here and in the other atolls of Nukunonu and Atafu was conducted professionally and in a comprehensive manner that ensured that all those enrolled were able to participate. The size of the electorate, at less than 800, made tallying the results a relatively quick process.
Mr Chairman and members of the Committee
You have already been informed of the outcome of last October’s referendum. By a margin of more than 64 percent to slightly more then 35 percent Tokelau’s voters supported the proposed change of status. However the threshold of the required two-thirds majority was missed by less than two percent. And so there would be no change of status for Tokelau as a consequence of that second act of self determination.
Those who were in Atafu on the evening of 24 October will remember well the mix of emotions as the result, and especially its closeness, was understood. Those who had worked so hard and who were certain that Tokelau’s people would overwhelmingly endorse change found the outcome difficult to accept.
The following morning the General Fono, Tokelau’s representative Assembly, convened in Atafu to formally receive the results of the referendum. Disappointment was still evident but so too was the thoughtfulness and commitment of Tokelau’s leaders The threshold set by the General Fono would be fully respected and there would be no change in Tokelau’s status at that time.
Addressing the General Fono that morning, I recorded New Zealand’s acceptance of the decision of the people of Tokelau. I also reaffirmed New Zealand’s continuing commitment to Tokelau, its people and its development. The previous evening the New Zealand Prime Minister had spoken by telephone with the Ulu of Tokelau and had invited Tokelau’s leaders to meet with her in Wellington after the January 2008 elections for Tokelau’s leaders. Prime Minister Clark made clear that she looked forward to the visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the ties that bind Tokelau and New Zealand together.
In January this year Tokelau held its atoll elections. A new General Fono was elected along with some changes in the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau. The following month all six members of the Council visited New Zealand and met with the Prime Minister and other senior members of government. In these meetings they conveyed their decision, based on the deliberations of the General Fono, that there would be a period of reflection before consideration would be given to a possible further act of self-determination and that, during this period, priority attention would be devoted to improving basic services and infrastructure on the atolls.
New Zealand has accepted this decision of Tokelau’s leaders and General Fono for a shift of priorities. There certainly is ample scope for strengthening the delivery of quality services on each of Tokelau’s small and isolated atolls.
I am pleased to report to the Committee that on the basis of planning already well underway before the referendum, a major infrastructure renewal programme is well underway. As a first stage Atafu and Fakaofo are receiving new school buildings and Nukunonu is having its hospital substantially improved. Major progress has also been achieved in the improvement of Tokelau’s shipping service. And increased effort is being directed at strengthening the ability of its public service to support more comprehensively the needs of each atoll’s population. There is much to do but much is already being done.
Last October in what has been acknowledged as an exceptionally well prepared referendum, more than 35 percent of Tokelau’s voters felt unable at that time to support a change of status. The willingness of Tokelau’s leaders to reflect on the concerns of this sizeable minority, rather than push immediately for a third ballot in the hope of gaining the two percent that would pass the threshold, is a mark of their clear determination to be leaders of all of Tokelau. They are to be commended for this attitude. New Zealand supports them in their ongoing efforts to lead all the people of Tokelau.
I have spoken at some length about the referendum, its outcome and the manner in which Tokelau’s leaders have responded to it. In doing so I seek to ensure that Tokelau is seen in the fullness of its reality : as a non-self-governing territory exercising its right to self-determination and also as a collection of three tiny, isolated and vulnerable atoll communities who look to new Zealand for almost all their needs.
Today it is important that we acknowledge the open and committed manner in which the people of Tokelau exercised their right to self-determination. We must also acknowledge and respect the outcome of that act. And most importantly we must reaffirm to Tokelau our ongoing commitment to supporting it in the years ahead.
These are challenging times for many countries. Small isolated fragile island communities like Tokelau must bear the brunt of these global challenges. New Zealand is committed to supporting Tokelau in the times ahead and finding solutions that work for Tokelau. As we do so we will ensure that this Committee remains fully informed of Tokelau’s progress.