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In the interests of democracy, and to secure relief for signatories of the 'Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga' petition, Te Vai Ora Maori says they want Cook Islands Parliament’s Speaker to resign.
In an email addressed to Speaker Niki Rattle, the country’s leaders, the Solicitor General and other officials, group acting chair Justine Flanagan said the 1433 people who signed the public petition put their confidence in our democracy.
“We are standing up for those people,” Flanagan said.
“In the interests of democracy, and to secure relief for the petitioners, we now call for the resignation of the Speaker.”
However, while Parliament’s Speaker Niki Rattle acknowledged the receipt of the group’s letter, she would not be drawn to comment about the matter further.
The Cook Islands Democratic Party Opposition is also supporting the call made by Te Vai Ora Maori.
The party said they have also long-held concerns over the conduct of the Speaker in Parliament and those concerns have become more deep-seated following the last sitting.
Ngatangiia MP Tama Tuavera said the integrity of Parliament has been seriously undermined by Speaker Niki Rattle.
Tuavera said he’s not surprised by the demand made by Te Vai Ora Maori group for the Speaker’s resignation.
“This was bound to happen because the Speaker made an incorrect ruling that’s silenced the freedom of choice of 1433 Cook Islanders and their right to be heard,” he said.
“These taxpayers and voters have rights under our Constitution, the Speaker has denied them that and disrespected the rights of our people in our Constitution.”
This is understood to be the first time the resignation of a Speaker of Parliament has been demanded from outside of Parliament.
“This group wouldn’t have taken this step without making sure they have their facts right. This is a very courageous move and the members are exercising their democratic right to speak out against what they believe is an injustice,” Tuavera said.
“The Opposition also feels the rejection by the Speaker of Te Vai Ora Maori Anti Chemical Treatment petition to continue to Select Committee was wrong and another example of bias and being badly advised. It doesn’t help matters that the Speaker is being advised by an inexperienced Acting Clerk.”
Tuavera added new Prime Minister Mark Brown should not continue ignoring public sentiment “because it’s not going to go away.”
“Don’t play down the demand by this group for the Speaker’s resignation as this government has ignored Te Mato Vai petition, the Anti-Purse Seine petition, the public demonstrations, the strong public voices during consultations on recent bills that people aren’t happy with. Our people are demanding to be heard, don’t keep shutting them out.”
During the sitting of 29 September 2020, Rattle responded to questioning about the status of the water petition.
"We did seek legal advice. And we were advised that in the separation of powers, the Parliament cannot tell the Government to stop doing something,” she said at the time.
“Because in the petition, it said that it wanted the Government to "stop" what it was doing. So the decision that was given that day was Parliament was not in a position in telling government to stop doing what they are doing.
“In the separation of powers, is where that decision was formed in the Parliament telling the Government how to do their business - which is not the business of Parliament."
Flanagan said the petitioners have good reason to question the integrity of this 'legal advice' - as it runs counter to the practice of petitioning in the Westminster form of governance.
The water petition is in-order, she said.
“In broad terms, the petitioners are requesting a change in Government policy: to reconsider water treatment methods; and for the supply of water to remain free-of-charge,” Flanagan said.
The Speaker must remain impartial, and they must foster (not erode), respect for Parliament as an institution, Flanagan said.
“When basic democratic processes are frustrated, it calls into question the integrity of the Parliament of the Cook Islands,” she said.
The members of the House can have no confidence in a Speaker who presumes discretion ― when no discretion is permitted, Flanagan said.
“Given the continued mishandling, the disposition of the Speaker now seems particular to the matter of the water petition,” she said.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
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