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NZ welcomes Tokelau referendum

NZ welcomes Tokelau referendum

Prime Minister Helen Clark today welcomed the commencing of Tokelau’s referendum on whether to become self-governing in free association with New Zealand or remain a dependent territory of New Zealand.

The referendum on Tokelau’s self-determination is being undertaken in the presence of the United Nations from 11 to 15 February. All Tokelauans aged 18 years and over who are normally resident in Tokelau are eligible to participate in the vote.

“For just on 80 years Tokelau has been a dependent territory of New Zealand. Prior to that it was administered for some 50 years by Britain. Over the past three decades it has progressively developed its institutions and capability to the point where it now wishes to determine its future constitutional status,” Helen Clark said.

“The question posed in the referendum is whether Tokelau now wishes to become self governing in free association with New Zealand.

“Although small – its population is around 1600 people - Tokelau has in practice been exercising all the responsibilities of a self-governing country for many years.

“It has its own distinctive system of government based on the traditional authority of its village councils, supplemented by a national assembly elected each three years. It has its own judicial system and public services. It manages its budget in its entirety. It is already participating actively in virtually all Pacific regional groupings and organisations.

“Because of its smallness and isolation, Tokelau will always look to New Zealand for economic and technical assistance. This is guaranteed in the draft treaty, as is the continued right of all Tokelauans to New Zealand citizenship. If it moves to self-government, Tokelau will be assured of financial and technical support from a range of other countries and organisations as well as New Zealand. Already its International Trust Fund stands at over $25 million.

“This is a significant moment for New Zealand and the United Nations as well as Tokelau. Tokelau is the last of our dependent territories to undertake an act of self determination.

“Whatever the outcome of the vote, it is encouraging that Tokelau now has sufficient confidence both in itself and in New Zealand to explore a formal change of status. Whatever the outcome of the vote, Tokelau may be assured of New Zealand’s continuing friendship and support,” Helen Clark said.

Contact: David Lewis 04-471 9327, 021-409 492

Background The result of the referendum is expected to be known late on 16 February.

Tokelau’s national assembly decided by unanimous vote in 2003 to explore the option of self government in free association with New Zealand. Since then Tokelau and New Zealand have worked closely together to develop a draft constitution and treaty of free association as a basis for a referendum.

If the result of the referendum is ‘yes’, a ‘Day of Self Government’ will mark the formal change of status in the third quarter of this year. Before then, the requisite amendments to the Tokelau Act would be submitted to the New Zealand Parliament, and the draft treaty would undergo the usual Parliamentary Select Committee examination. At the same time, the United Nations would move to consider removing Tokelau from its list of non self governing territories.

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