Saturday, January 17, 2004
SUNDAY STAR TIMES - STORY : New Zealand's leading news and information website: "Niue's status as a nation is under question after the cyclone that hit the tiny Pacific nation, causing more than $50 million damage.

In the aftermath of the storm, some island leaders are calling for a return to New Zealand governance, and expect the population to fall from about 1200 native Niueans to an unsustainable 500 people.

Such a drop would likely render the nation unviable. Niue currently receives $8m in aid a year from New Zealand, the equivalent of a cash hand-out of around $16,000 per head should the population fall to the predicted 500.

Fears for Niue's political survival come amid the declaration of a major health crisis over asbestos in the air, accusations of looting among destroyed villages and claims that early plans to alert the island's population to the cyclone were called off.

Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff yesterday acknowledged that a population drop could force New Zealand to take over Niue's governance.

Goff said until now, Niueans had been adamant they wanted to retain the status quo - financial and administrative support from New Zealand while retaining their own sovereignty.

But, as the smallest independent state in the world, Goff said the Niuean population was comparable to an average-sized New Zealand secondary school and so its constitutional status remained 'under review'.

Goff gave a formal directive to New Zealand government departments last year - not publicly announced at the time - to assist Niue, treating it as an extension of New Zealand.

He said if Niue's population continued to drop, economies of scale would become even more difficult to achieve. 'We need to acknowledge what the people on Niue want, rather than being seen as a former colonial country imposing our will.'

Niue has been self-governing in free association with New Zealand since 1974, and New Zealand has an ongoing responsibility to provide necessary economic and administrative assistance.

Acting premier Toke Talagi said he believed a closer relationship would be formed that would allow Niue to use the machinery of the New Zealand government to perform some public service duties. He said the 'administrative' aspect of the 1974 agreement had never been properly defined. "

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