Volume 77 1968 > Volume 77, No. 3 > Self-determination and political development in Niue, by Roger Parsons, p 242 - 262
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The establishment of the United Nations Organisation after the Second World War coincided with the disintegration of the old colonial empires. The gradual influx of the ex-colonial countries into that Organisation brought increased pressure for the release of the remaining colonies. Self-determination was a right to be exercised by all peoples, a right that the United Nations Organisation came to link directly with the political development of all non-self-governing territories. Ex-colonial countries pressed to have the strict international control incorporated in the trusteeship system expanded to include non-self-governing territories. Increasingly all administering Powers found their policies being questioned and attacked.

It is in this context that this paper attempts to trace the influence of international events on the administration and political development of one small Pacific island and the progress of that island's people toward a meaningful expression of their right to self-determination.

At the time the United Nations Organisation was established, New Zealand had been administering Niue Island for almost fifty years. A small dot of land 300 miles from its nearest neighbour Tonga, 100 square miles of coral rock lacking the natural resources to provide anything more than subsistence living, isolated and remote, Niue Island had become (along with the Cook Islands) the final reward of Prime Minister Seddon's ambitions for a Pacific Empire. Throughout most of the nineteenth century New Zealand had “hammer[ed] at doors in Downing Street and Whitehall with urgent requests for British action in the Pacific”. 1 There had been general disappointment in New Zealand over the terms of the Samoan Settlement of 1899, the New Zealand Government having always - 243 hoped that Britain would annex the islands and put them under New Zealand administration.

After the Samoan Settlement Britain was free to grant a Niuean petition requesting British protection, 2 and in April 1900 Basil Thomson arrived in Niue to raise the British flag. Thomson later described this event in the following terms: “With the smoke of the last gun still floating in the air, I turned to congratulate the King upon now being under the protection of Her Majesty. He shook hands with me and thanked me in a bewildered way. And looking around upon these hundreds of ‘British Protected Persons’ who had changed their international status so suddenly, I could not help wondering what they (or indeed, anybody else) thought had been affected by the change”. 3 The bewilderment of the Niueans was in no way diminished in the following year when Seddon's urgent request for annexation to New Zealand was favourably received in the British Colonial Office and on June 11, 1901, Niue was annexed to New Zealand. 4

New Zealand's first Government Resident was despatched to Niue in September 1901 and two years later the administration of Niue was separated from that of the Cook Islands. In 1915, under the Cook Islands Act, full legal provision was made for the administration of Niue. The Act provided for the appointment of a Resident Commissioner responsible for the administration of the executive government, and an Island Council was formally constituted with twelve members (one from each village) appointed by the Governor-General on nominations submitted by the Minister for the Cook Islands. In practice they were selected by the village fono where the patus or heads of the extended families meet to decide the major issues of the village. A fono for the whole island appears to have been established only after contact with Europeans; there are no records of such meetings before the arrival of London Missionary Society missionaries in Niue. 5 The Island Council met quarterly to “assist the Resident Commissioner and advise him on island matters”. 6 Laws for Niue were made by Acts of the New Zealand Parliament or by ordinances passed by the Island Council and assented to by the Resident Commissioner. However, no major enactments, relating to such subjects as the expenditure of revenue or the imposition of custom duties, could be passed by ordinance. 7

With New Zealand's authority properly constituted, Niue was then all - 244 but forgotten for forty years. Every year a report was submitted to the New Zealand Parliament covering the Cook Islands, Niue and the Tokelau Islands. 8 And every year, except during the Depression, a subsidy of approximately £5,000 was provided by the New Zealand Government.

Throughout this period the relations between the Administration and the London Missionary Society appear to have been uneasy, and at times quite strained. Basil Thomson had noted at the turn of the century that the influence of the London Missionary Society appeared to be waning, 9 just at the time when the New Zealand Administration was establishing itself. The conflict, especially in the early years, was one of the important factors which limited political progress in Niue. Trouble flared up in 1947 over the loading of ships on Sundays and in the ensuing conflict both sides showed a lack of understanding and tolerance. 10 Serious trouble, which may have been related to the London Missionary Society—Administration conflict, arose in 1953. On the night of August 16th of that year three prisoners escaped and killed the Resident Commissioner, C. H. W. Larsen. The murder of the Resident Commissioner had more effect on the New Zealand administration than was at first apparent. The Department of Island Territories realised that more detailed attention would have to be given to Niue and that greater efforts at cooperation with both the islanders and the London Missionary Society would have to be made. This may be seen in three steps taken by the Department. Firstly, Mr. J. McEwen, (an able administrator who took the trouble to learn Niuean) was sent to Niue as Resident Commissioner; secondly, more frequent meetings of the Islands Council were held “to keep the administration and the people in touch”; 11 and finally, both the expenditure by the Administration and the subsidy from the New Zealand Government were sharply increased. 12

Professor C. C. Aikman made two visits to the Cook Islands in 1956 and his recommendations 13 were incorporated in the Cook Islands Amendment Act 1957. Niue was included under certain parts of the Act whereby provision was made for the increase of the membership of the Island Council, for changing the name of that body to the “Niue Island Assembly”, and for the election of Assembly men in place of nomination. Provision was also made for the Assembly to have increased control over locally raised revenue and for the appointment by the Resident Commissioner of village committees with certain judicial powers of law enforcement. 14 If was some time, however, before any of these provisions were implemented.

In February 1959, a devastating hurricane struck Niue. Whole villages were demolished on the west coast of the island, leaving more than 400 homes destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Crops were damaged so badly that there was an immediate danger of a shortage of food. An appeal for £10,000 was started by the New Zealand Government aided by the - 245 Red Cross and Corso, the money being made available to the Island Council for distribution. 15 In May the New Zealand Government established a £72,000 housing scheme under which the Niueans could receive £150 interest-free loans to build new houses, repayable over a ten year period. 16 All these arrangements were interrupted, however, by a second hurricane in January 1960, which destroyed most of the remaining houses. After a delegation composed of the Resident Commissioner and two Assemblymen had visited Wellington in May, a revised housing scheme was launched along similar lines to the original one, this time involving £166,000. Much of the detailed work of hearing claims for loans, allotting the money and supervising timetables, fell to the Islands Assembly, and this was its first major administrative responsibility. The usual half-day meetings rapidly became all-day, and not infrequently two-day, meetings and each Assemblyman found himself responsible for the supervision of the loans and new buildings of his village, reporting at each meeting how the new buildings were progressing.

Towards the end of 1959 part II of the Cook Islands Amendment Act 1957 came into force and the Island Council was replaced by the Niue Island Assembly with the Resident Commissioner as President. The Assembly was also given increased control over locally raised revenue. Niue had its first secret ballot elections in 1960, with all Niueans over eighteen years of age voting for fourteen Assemblymen. 17 This was the formalisation of a process which had been in operation since 1915, with the European concept of “one man one vote” and a secret ballot replacing the informal public election of councillors by the village fono.

Throughout this rather difficult period the Resident Commissioner was Mr. D. W. R. Heatley, 18 who arrived in Niue a few weeks before the first hurricane. For almost one hundred years, first under Frank Lawes, the London Missionary Society missionary who was the motivating force behind the island's first written laws, and later under the paternalistic New Zealand administration 19 which concerned itself mainly with keeping law and order and developing health and educational facilities, the Island Council had been given very little responsibility. Furthermore, the Council was unwilling to accept the little responsibility given to it. McEwen and his successor, Mr. A. O. Dare, had attempted to guide councillors into accepting more authority but given the immense task of restoring order after two hurricanes it was probably too much to expect that Heatley could have successfully continued his predecessors' efforts in the Council. The Housing Loan Scheme, however, did involve the Assembly in new administrative responsibilities. At the time it could not have been foreseen - 246 how important the assemblymen's acceptance of responsibility was; it was only after 1962 when the whole pace of development speeded up so suddenly that time became such an important factor.

New Zealand has been an active and enthusiastic supporter of the United Nations Organisation from the time of its inception. At the San Francisco meeting of 1944 New Zealand was one of the most active of the smaller countries persistently arguing for greater powers for the smaller nations. New Zealand and Australia had previously reached agreement at Canberra in January 1944 20 on many of the issues discussed at San Francisco, and in Committee II/4 on trusteeship and non-self-governing territories, chaired by the New Zealand Prime Minister Mr. Peter Fraser, it was generally Dr. Evatt of Australia who presented the Australasian viewpoint. Both countries actively supported the Declaration Regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories and attempted (unsuccessfully) to have a code of standards established to guide colonial powers in their administration of non-self-governing territories, a proposal which was described at the time as “typical of the more radical policy of Australia and New Zealand”. 21

It was with this background that New Zealand actively supported the United Nations' provisions concerning trusteeship and non-self-governing territories. Western Samoa was placed under the trusteeship system and annual reports on the Cook Islands, Niue and the Tokelaus were submitted to the Secretary-General under Article 73(e) of the Charter whereby countries administering non-self-governing territories undertake “to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General for information purposes, subject to such limitation as security and constitutional considerations may require, statistical and other information of a technical nature relating to economic, social and educational conditions in the territories for which they are respectively responsible”.

It is clear that the United Nations Charter draws a sharp distinction between the provisions covering non-self-governing territories and those covering trusteeship territories (Chapter XI and Chapters XII and XIII respectively). Under the Charter the trusteeship system is voluntary in that an administering power can decide whether or not to place a territory under trusteeship, whereas Chapter XI applies to all non-self-governing territories automatically. The Trusteeship Council is empowered not only to discuss individual territories but also to send visiting missions to such areas; the only obligation placed on a power administering a non-self-governing territory is to transmit information. However, since the inception of the United Nations Organisation, there have been persistent attempts to minimise these distinctions and to assimilate Chapter XI into the trusteeship system. The first step in this direction was taken in 1947 when a Committee on Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories 22 was created by the General Assembly. Unlike the Trusteeship - 247 Council however, the Committee on Information could not consider political developments in the territories nor could any one particular territory be singled out for individual study. At the same time the Soviets and several other delegations put forward further proposals “including (a) visits by the United Nations to non-self-governing territories; (b) the right of the United Nations to receive and examine petitions from such territories; (c) instructions to the Secretary-General to make use in ‘his’ analyses of information drawn from unofficial sources in the territories”. 23 Although these proposals were rejected at the time many countries continued to press for their implementation, and by 1963 with the establishment of the Special Committee on the situation with regard to the implementation of the Declaration of the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, 24 they were all to varying degrees established obligations for all countries administering non-self-governing territories. 25 Thus the clear distinctions between the powers covering trusteeship and non-self-governing territories, made explicit in the Charter, have gradually been all but removed.

New Zealand regularly submitted reports to the Committee on Information on such matters as the educational, economic, trade and social conditions of Niue. 26 Each year the Committee covered a different area of study, and a report was submitted at the end of each session to the Fourth (Trusteeship) Committee which in turn reported to the General Assembly.

While fully supporting the Committee on Information and the Fourth Committee, New Zealand opposed all attempts to broaden their powers. For example, in January 1957, New Zealand voted in the Fourth Committee against a four-power resolution recommending the adoption of target dates for the establishment of universal primary education; and in October of the same year, New Zealand opposed a resolution of the Fourth Committee requesting the Secretary-General to prepare a report on the association of non-self-governing territories with the European Economic Community. 27 This was a clear shift from the earlier “radical” policies of Peter Fraser at San Francisco.

The character of the United Nations Organisation was changing, however, for ever since the Soviet-American deadlock on membership had been broken by the “package deal” of 1955 the number of member states - 248 had increased rapidly with eighteen new nations (mostly ex-colonial African states) being admitted in 1960. It soon became apparent that in any vote in the General Assembly (or the Fourth Committee) the anti-colonial powers would have a clear majority. This was demonstrated when all the African and Asian countries in the United Nations sponsored a resolution on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People. 28 The resolution stated “3. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence”, and “5. Immediate steps shall be taken, in trust and non-self-governing territories . . ., to transfer all powers to the people of these territories without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, . . .” New Zealand was now placed in a dilemma as it was clear that the resolution would be passed, probably by a substantial majority. If New Zealand voted against it or abstained she would be likely to incur heavy criticism from all the African and Asian states—a situation in which any small country, especially a country proud of its United Nations record, is loath to place itself. On the other hand, the resolution contradicted many aspects of New Zealand policy in its island territories. For instance, the Aikman Report of 1956 stated that “In the Cook Islands a full system of responsible government is precluded while the territory continues to be financially dependent on New Zealand” 29 and Mary Boyd pointed out that the whole Western approach to self-government has been based upon “the principle that the ‘well-being and development’ of dependent peoples forms a sacred trust to civilization. This implies that ultimately dependent peoples will have the right to choose their own form of government, but that for the time being, some kind of political tutelage is necessary. The transition to self-government will be peaceful. Evolutionary, process by stages, conditional upon economic, social, political and educational advancement30 This approach was contradicted by point three (quoted above) of the resolution on colonialism. During the debate on the resolution the New Zealand representative tried to resolve this dilemma when he pointed out that “the charter itself recognises that every people and territory which travels this path must set a pace in keeping with its capabilities. That is why the detailed provisions governing Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories left room for a flexible approach capable of being adjusted to the circumstances of each territory. This flexible approach was necessary only because the immediate grant of self-government or independence would in most cases have been detrimental to the real interests of the territory concerned”. 31 The resolution would have been passed whichever way New Zealand had voted, thus the major consideration was whether New Zealand was prepared to commit herself to these new measures by voting for them, or else abstain (as it was clear Australia, Britain and the United States would) and thereby be left with a little more flexibility and probably more criticism. In - 249 this situation New Zealand endeavoured to alter and tone down some passages of the resolution, but finally voted for the Declaration as a whole. It was probably New Zealand's good record in the United Nations, especially over the administration of Western Samoa, combined with the fear of heavy Afro-Asian criticism that turned the balance in favour of voting for the resolution.

It was, however, obvious that the anti-colonial powers in the United Nations would not be satisfied simply with a declaration of intent. The Declaration on Colonialism in itself did not immediately alter the situation very drastically, as administering powers remained obliged only to report on non-political matters to the Committee on Information. 32 Towards the end of 1961 a number of resolutions concerning colonial matters were presented in the General Assembly, the most important being resolution 1700 (xv) which called for a broadening of the terms of reference of the Committee on Information, empowering it to examine information on constitutional and political developments; and, more significantly, it made provision for the Committee to make recommendations on individual territories. New Zealand once again found herself in a dilemma, as it would be difficult to vote against or abstain on this measure after having voted for the Declaration on Colonialism. On the other hand, the new measures would place New Zealand's territories under closer scrutiny. After abstaining on one provision, New Zealand voted for the resolution as a whole. 33

Another major step towards strengthening United Nations involvement in non-self-governing territories was taken in January 1962 when an Afro-Asian resolution established a Committee of seventeen members to examine the application of the Declaration on Colonialism and to make suggestions and recommendations to the General Assembly. Once again New Zealand voted for the resolution, the only countries abstaining being France, South Africa, Spain and Britain (Portugal did not vote). The Declaration on Colonialism now had a formal body to ensure that its provisions were carried out. With these two new provisions it was now possible to make specific recommendations on individual territories which might include target dates for independence.

It was clear that evidence of political progress in the islands (including Niue) would have to be presented if New Zealand was to keep ahead of events as had been done with Western Samoa. This in fact was done. In April 1962, the New Zealand delegation reported to the Committee on Information that the Cook and Niue Assemblies had been empowered to take over full responsibility for the appropriation of all subsidies as well as for locally raised revenue. By December it was announced that the Cooks and Niue had been offered four possible alternatives for their future; full independence, integration with New Zealand, a federation of Polynesian states and full internal self-government; and that the two Assemblies had unanimously decided on internal self-government. A timetable of changes - 250 leading up to internal self-government was also presented. Commenting on the situation the New Zealand representative said, “The solution which is emerging may be as individual as the situation which is shaping it, but it will be a solution evolved by the island's peoples themselves to meet their needs and wishes, and will thus fulfil the aims of this Organisation”. 34 Exactly what the “aims” of the Organisation involved was a matter of some controversy. The Charter obliges administering countries “to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement”. 35 Attempts had been made at San Francisco to insert the goal of independence into this Article but they were rebuffed. However, some countries continued to argue that “free political institutions” meant only one thing— independence. In 1953 the General Assembly had adopted a resolution 36 which listed factors for guidance in deciding when a territory might be said to be self-governing. The resolution recognised that “self-government” could refer to several different forms. Three being specifically mentioned. They were, independence, some other separate system of self-government, or a free association of the territory “on equal basis with the metropolitan other country as an integral part of that country or in any other form”. That this resolution had not settled the matter became evident with the Declaration on Colonialism in 1960 which stated that “immediate steps shall be taken, in trust and non-self-governing territories . . . To transfer all power to the peoples of those territories without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, . . . In order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom”. Did the right “to enjoy complete independence and freedom” mean that complete independence was the only choice for non-self-governing territories? Some anti-colonial countries continued to argue that it did. 37 From 1962 on, many of New Zealand's statements in the United Nations were aimed at convincing other countries that this was not so and that internal self-government, chosen by the Island Assemblies themselves, was a satisfactory solution for both Niue and the Cook Islands. 38

The process of ensuring that the terms of the Declaration on Colonialism were carried out was developed further when the United Nations Committee of Seventeen was strengthened in 1963 and its membership increased (becoming the Committee of Twenty-four), taking over the responsibilities of the Committee on Information which was then dissolved.

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Throughout 1963 and 1964, while the Cook Islands progressed along the time-table set down, Niue began to “lag” behind. The New Zealand representative, Mr Corner, in reply to a question, assured the Sub-Committee II of the Committee of Twenty-four that a constitutional mission would be sent to Niue to look into the situation. 39 At the same time a report of the Committee of Twenty-four noted that Niue was falling behind. 40 In 1964 the Committee turned for the first time to discuss the non-self-governing Pacific territories in detail and the “slow progress” in Niue and the Tokelaus was commented upon. The Russian delegate wanted to amend the Sub-Committee II's report to read, “while some constitutional progress has been attained in the Cook Islands, progress towards self-government in Niue and particularly in the Tokelau Islands has been even slower”. 41 Although the amendment was not put to the vote there was constant pressure on New Zealand to show that political progress was being made in the islands.

During the 1965 session, the Committee of Twenty-four turned its attention to other areas. At the beginning of the year the promised constitutional mission visited Niue and submitted a Constitutional Report. In explaining the report to the United Nations Mr. Corner said, “The speed of the proposed changes, amounting virtually to full Cabinet Government by 1966, had raised considerable apprehensions in the Niue Assembly, which had asked for a team of constitutional experts to visit the island and draw up a new series of recommendations based on the views of the islanders”. 42 It was decided to abandon the timetable and not to establish a new one, and that only “the next step in the process should be outlined”.

Throughout this period in the United Nations, New Zealand was extremely conscious of both its “colonial power” status and its policy of not offending world opinion. New Zealand faced a difficult decision over whether to vote for, or abstain from, the Declaration on Colonialism in 1960, and once the decision was made to support it, it was extremely difficult not to support later measures which progressively strengthened the 1960 Declaration. Australia, Britain and the United States gained a little more flexibility (and more criticism) by abstaining on the original 1960 Declaration vote. By voting for the Declaration New Zealand found that not only was she placed in an awkward position over later resolutions, but that she was also placed in a dilemma as to what should be done in Niue: the United Nations demanded prompt development towards independence regardless of “inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness”, while it was clear from the Constitutional Report that the Niueans themselves wanted to progress only gradually with political development, dispensing with any definite timetable and with the - 252 major emphasis being placed on economic development. It is to the resolving of this dilemma that we shall now turn.

In March 1962, two months after the Committee of Seventeen had been established, the then Minister of Island Territories, Mr Götz, visited Niue and announced that as from April 1 the Assembly would have full responsibility for the appropriation of all moneys, including the subsidy from the New Zealand Government. At the same time the amounts of the subsidies for the next three years were announced so that the Assembly could plan beyond the yearly budget. To encourage the Assembly to make further efforts in the economic field (and thus eventually reduce the proportion of New Zealand subsidy in the total budget) extra grants covering the next three years were established with a total of £25,000 to be held in an Economic Development Fund. These new measures represented a major shift of responsibility from Wellington to Niue and the beginnings of confidence in the abilities of the Assembly. 43

From 1960, with the passing of the Declaration on Colonialism, it became obvious that the New Zealand Government had no long-term policy on which to base the major political changes in the islands that were now being demanded by the United Nations. In the 1938 Annual Report on Niue it had been stated that “the Administration considers its first duty is to the care of the native population and the maintenance of law and order, bringing about desirable changes gradually”. 44 Apart from health and educational matters, this gradual, piecemeal approach was still New Zealand's policy at the beginning of 1962. With the establishment of the Committee of Seventeen the matter could be left no longer. Clearly the Committee would look at the Pacific area and a definite policy for New Zealand's territories would be needed. By moving first New Zealand would be able to retain the initiative in the area and at the same time gain the approval of the Committee of Seventeen. For international reasons, it was time that some general policy for the Pacific territories was formulated. What were the possible alternatives? In 1953 a General Assembly resolution 45 mentioned three possibilities: independence, some other separate system of self-government, or integration with the administering country. These alternatives for constitutional development were outlined by the Minister of Island Territories, Mr Götz, in a speech to the Cook Islands Legislative Assembly on July 11, 1962, and considered by the Niue Assembly soon afterwards. A fourth, though very unlikely alternative was added : that of a Polynesian Federation. In considering the possibility of independence, Mr Götz stated, “Even if you become politically independent, I do not think there is any prospect of your becoming economically independent unless you were prepared to give up your education and health services and many other important items”. 46 That there never was any real prospect in the near future of Niue becoming completely economi - 253 cally independent was true, but obviously New Zealand would not suddenly withdraw all financial support if the island chose independence, as is implied here. The Samoan example illustrates this point. On the possibilities of complete integration with New Zealand Mr Götz commented, “This would mean that you would receive the same treatment as, say, the Province of Taranaki. All the laws of New Zealand would apply here—not only some you would like but also a number which you would certainly not like, such as our taxation laws”. 47 In reality, as Mr Götz pointed out later to the Wellington English Speaking Union, if the islanders “had chosen integration with New Zealand their family benefit income would outweigh their income tax payments”. 48 The third possibility, that of a Federation of Polynesian states, was still very much a theoretical proposition; even the islands which might form the Federation had not been mentioned, let alone consulted. There were also tremendous physical problems of communications and differences of language. Mr Götz commented that this possibility could not be “seriously considered at the present moment”. 49 His speech left no doubt as to which option the New Zealand Government thought was most suitable; full internal self-government was the only option fully explained. 50

The Minister's speech to the Cook Islands Legislative Assembly was considered soon after by an Executive Committee of the Niue Island Assembly. This Committee had been established on the recommendation of the Resident Commissioner, who had explained how useful such a body could be in considering the Minister's proposals. From later events it is clear that the Assembly had little idea of what an Executive Committee's functions were, nor what its relationship to the Assembly as a whole was likely to be. In fact this was a major step towards a cabinet system of government with the Executive Committee acting as a forerunner for an - 254 Executive Council. These implications were apparently not mentioned to the Assembly at the time.

After the Executive Committee had discussed the proposals, the Niue Island Assembly decided, on the 23rd August 1962, to opt for internal self-government. Assemblyman Robert Rex, using part of an old prebiblical song, said, “Dig, dig, dig a deep hole, throw it [the first three alternatives] in and bury it forever”. The future course of Niue's political development was now set.

How real was the choice presented to the Niueans? Even if Mr Götz had explained the alternatives more adequately it is doubtful whether the Niueans were ready to exercise their right of self-determination at this stage. Deliberate efforts are needed to develop the ability of the people to make meaningful decisions. Corner pointed out in the United Nations General Assembly that “if it is to be a genuine expression of the people's will, a meaningful act of free choice, self-determination demands careful preparation”. 51 In 1962 the “careful preparation” in Niue had only just begun.

Although the Assembly had approved the move towards internal self-government there was some apprehension about the speed of the political change. It was with alarm, therefore, that in December the Niueans heard a Radio New Zealand report that they had unanimously accepted a timetable which would lead to full internal self-government by 1964. 52 The New Zealand representative in the Fourth Committee stated, “the stages have been worked out in consultation with the islanders themselves and have been unanimously approved by the Legislative Assemblies in both the Cooks and Niue.” 53 This does not appear to have been the case. There is no evidence that the Niue Assembly had heard mention of any timetable. Had they been consulted it was most unlikely that the Assembly would have “unanimously approved” a timetable that led so quickly to internal self-government. The Resident Commissioner and two members of the Executive Committee were invited soon after to visit Wellington, presumably to discuss the timetable.

By March 1963, the three-year term of the Niue Island Assembly had expired and an election was held at the end of the month. Seven of the fourteen members of the Assembly were returned unopposed as against one in the previous election. After the elections the Executive Committee considered the notes sent to the New Zealand delegation on the Fourth Committee, and reported to the Assembly. There was a general reluctance to agree to any firm date for any of the proposed changes. March 1965 was considered the earliest possible date for the withdrawal of the Resident - 255 Commissioner from the Assembly but even then they preferred to reserve the decision for a later date. 54

In June the Resident Commissioner and two members of the Executive Committee went to Wellington to discuss the political developments. Although there was Assembly opposition to the timetable announced in the Fourth Committee the idea of establishing a timetable for political development was retained and a new programme was drawn up with full internal self-government set for 1966. 55

It should be noted at this point that much of the original haste over constitutional development was centred on the Cook Islands and once it was clear that they were moving rapidly towards internal self-government, it was not considered imperative that Niue should follow the same timetable. It was still considered necessary, however, that some form of timetable should be presented to satisfy the Committee of Twenty-four. It was probably this concern for satisfying the United Nations and maintaining New Zealand's good name in that Organisation that led to the premature announcement of the original timetable.

Copies of the new timetable were discussed by the Assembly and explanations and illustrations of the proposed political system were given. At this stage it was stressed that the new timetable was only a broad outline, and the Assembly was asked to consider whether they agreed with the programme or thought it was moving too fast or too slowly. 56 When the Assemblymen discussed the question without the Resident Commissioner they got diverted on to economic questions and the constitutional matters were left until the next meeting. It was apparent that the members were having difficulty in understanding constitutional matters and in differentiating them from economic ones.

At the same time, in the Committee of Twenty-four, Niue was no longer directly coupled with the Cook Islands in reports of political developments, and by April of the following year it was stated that “the course of its [Niue's] development may well follow fairly closely on that of the Cook Islands”. 57

At each monthly meeting of the Assembly constitutional matters were discussed and with each meeting it became more and more obvious that the Assemblymen were having difficulty in understanding the new measures and that they did not want to have the responsibility of making a decision. Fears were held that the decision might involve the loss of, or at least cuts - 256 in, the New Zealand subsidies. At the September meeting it was once again obvious that there was some confusion between economic and constitutional development. 58 Finally, in October, after another lengthy discussion the Assembly reached its decision. The decision passed the responsibility on to the Niuean people as the Assembly requested that a ballot be held, the islanders being asked whether they thought the programme was (a) in order, or (b) too fast. If the Assemblymen were having difficulty in understanding the new measures and were getting them confused with economic development, there was little chance that the islanders at large would have any idea of the issue on which they would be asked to vote. A visit to Niue in February 1964 was planned by the Secretary of Island Territories, presumably to discuss the Assembly's decision, but when this was not possible a trip in August was decided upon, this time including Professor Aikman. In the meantime, constitutional questions were not discussed in Niue.

Meanwhile the Committee of Twenty-four had once again turned to study the Pacific territories and New Zealand found itself being attacked by some countries for allowing Niue and Tokelaus to “lag” behind the Cooks in their constitutional development. Assurances were given that a constitutional mission would visit Niue within six months. The visit was once again postponed at the last moment because of the ill-health of Mr McEwen and a new date set for January 1965. In the meantime constitutional matters were not raised by the Resident Commissioner and there appeared to be no enthusiasm on the part of the Assembly or the Executive Committee to do otherwise.

In January, 1965, Professor Aikman and Mr McEwen held a number of lengthy meetings with the Niue Island Assembly discussing the proposed constitutional changes. As it was clear that a number of the Assemblymen did not understand the type of government they were now progressing towards, Professor Aikman, at one meeting, explained the history of early English government. 59 He explained its relevance to the Niuean system and further explanations were given in the form of diagrams on a blackboard. Even once an understanding of the new system had been gained it was obvious that the general attitude of the Assemblymen and of most Niueans at large was that they wanted to move slowly in any constitutional changes. Fears were expressed that New Zealand might reduce her subsidy to Niue. Some Niueans doubted whether they had the general ability to run their own island affairs as was made clear by the general reluctance to having the Resident Commissioner withdraw from the Assembly in 1965. Mr McEwen assurred the Assembly that the subsidy would not be with drawn or reduced and promised to look into the difficulties over the proposed timetable.

A Constitutional Report on Niue was presented to the New Zealand Parliament in August 1965. The report recognised what the Niueans had been stressing for some time, that a precise timetable was of little value in Niue's constitutional development. “It was important,” the report stated, “that there should be no emphasis at this point on an overall programme - 257 setting out a series of steps that would lead to full self-government. The immediate concern should be the next step that should be taken to give the Niueans a further instalment of control over their own affairs”. 60 It recommended that a member system of government be established at an early stage with the members of the Executive Committee taking over responsibility for particular departments and that one member be elected Leader of Government Business; also that a senior public servant be appointed to a new post of Secretary to the Government and Secretary to the Executive Committee. Finally it was recommended that village councils as previously proposed should be established. The last paragraph of the report pointed out the fact so often overlooked by New Zealand and the Committee of Twenty-four, that the development towards internal self-government takes time, patience and understanding. 61 The report contained no revolutionary changes but rather recommended a slowing down of the constitutional development which was clearly the wish of both the Assembly and of the Niueans at large. It did not altogether do away with the timetable idea but only recommended a few changes in the near future leaving the rest of the development to be decided at some time when the islanders felt capable of accepting changes.

The Constitutional Report is an important milestone in the political development of the Niuean people. It established the important and basic principle that no further constitutional changes should take place until the Niueans felt ready and able to accept them. Here, for the first time in their modern history, the Niueans had made a clear expression of their views, and these views had been recognised and accepted by the New Zealand Government; for the first time the Niueans had meaningfully exercised their right of self-determination—to slow down the rate of their constitutional development.

The Constitutional Report was considered by the Niue Island Assembly at the beginning of 1966, and they decided to accept “in principle” the recommendations of the report, leaving the final decisison until after the Assembly elections in April. The Assembly also pointed out the contradiction between ceasing to use the programme of constitutional development leading to full cabinet government and the new plan setting out steps to be taken to create a member system. It was explained that “the creation of a Member System could be the first step towards the establishing of cabinet government, but it does not necessarily commit Niue to eventual Cabinet Government”. 62

In April, at the first meeting of the new Assembly, the Executive Committee was elected, for the first time bringing it to its full strength of four members. The member for Alofi South, Mr. Robert Rex, was elected as Leader of Government Business. In August each member of the Executive - 258 Committee agreed to accept a portfolio, the only major department being taken over by Mr. Robert Rex, who assumed control of Public Works and Electricity. Further portfolios will be taken over when members of the Executive Committee feel capable of handling them.

One important question has not been raised so far in this paper; that is why a Cabinet system was decided upon as the best system of Government for Niue. Niue has never, in its known history, had a strong central government nor a powerful supreme chief, so any form of modern government covering the whole island could not be built completely upon traditional lines of authority. On the other hand, the village unit based on extended families has always been one of the basic social units on the island and, to that extent, having representatives from each village is a sound principle upon which to establish the island's government. But the Cabinet system of government is completely foreign to the Niueans, as was obvious when the Constitutional Mission visited Niue in 1965. The Niueans are used to group responsibility as exercised in village councils rather than the individual responsibility that is required in a Cabinet system. When the Executive Committee was originally established the members requested that they exercise collective rather than individual responsibility. 63 The Niueans are also used to discussing issues until they arrive at general consensus; majority decisions are foreign to them. There appears to be no necessary reason why a Cabinet system should be established in Niue apart from the fact that it is the system best known in New Zealand. At present it is probably a hindrance to political development as the Assemblymen are reluctant to take individual responsibility. Niue is too small a community to need individual departments, and decisions could be made by Cabinet as a whole without overloading its work. There is also a real danger that Niue, with only 5,000 inhabitants, may find itself saddled with an expensive and top-heavy political structure. This danger exists in the moves to formalise the village councils. As far back as 1954, when Mr McEwen was Resident Commissioner, he proposed that each village should have a committee of elected patus to administer village affairs and maintain law and order. Under the Cook Islands Amendment Act of 1957 the Niue Island Resident Commissioner was empowered to establish formally constituted village councils. The matter was again raised in September 1964, and in the Constitutional Report of 1965. Despite the official view that “the islanders are eager to have committees properly established in each village” 64 on every occasion that the matter was raised, there was no keen local support for the idea and it was taken no further. A paper presented before the Assembly in 1964 stated that “at the present time village affairs are handled on a non-official basis by the Assemblymen, Constable, Pastor and leading patus”. As this system had been operating effectively for many years there seemed little point in changing it unless substantial advantages were to be gained. One argument for change was that official village councils would “further civic responsibility and community development, at the same time enabling the Assembly to concentrate on central government”. 65 Decen - 259 tralisation on an island of 5,000 inhabitants seems unnecessary, while there is no reason why civic responsibility and community development should not be carried out as effectively by unofficial as by official village councils. The formal village councils could act as training grounds for many Niueans in the formal ways of European committee procedure and thus prepare some of them for later services on the Island Assembly. But the burden of a top-heavy political system would be a heavy price to pay for such training.

It has been fortunate for New Zealand's international reputation that the Niueans have shown themselves to be both adaptable and peaceful. But the Niueans still face a basic problem—how to find a workable and meaningful system of government which is adaptable to their needs. The Niueans, after initial hostility, accepted in good faith the authority of the missionaries and the assurances that traditional customs had to change. But when old men came to the Reverend George Lawes in 1862 saying “a few years ago we should have killed these men [criminals], but now we know that it is not right and we have come to know what the word of God says and what you do in your country”, 66 there was no reply. First the London Missionary Society Missionaries and then the New Zealand authorities told the Niueans what to do, not why. They were not taught how to govern themselves.

This paper has attempted to highlight the motivating forces behind the change in New Zealand policy in Niue from indifference to rapid political development, and the gradual hesitant growth in political awareness of the Niuean people.

It was only after the murder of a Resident Commissioner that the New Zealand Government was forced out of its complacency and was brought to realise that it would have to pay closer attention to what was happening in Niue. In the 1957 Cook Islands Amendment Act provision was made for change to allow more authority to be given to the Assembly. These moves were initiated by the New Zealand authorities with the Niueans uninterested in constitutional developments. There was no talk at this time of independence or self-government. From 1960, with the adoption of the Declaration on Colonialism, international considerations began to play an important part in shaping New Zealand's attitude to Niue. This was particularly so after the establishment of the Committee of Seventeen (which later became the Committee of Twenty-four). The policy decision of 1962 to offer the Niueans “four alternatives” for future political development was hastened by the realisation that the Committee of Seventeen would soon be turning to consider the Pacific “colonies”. That such haste was necessary was based on two points: firstly, New Zealand did not want to be criticised in the United Nations and, secondly, if such criticism were to be avoided without losing the initiative of action, then New Zealand had to move first. Throughout this period the Niueans had only been passive partners in the political developments; “it was the New Zealand Government which was pressing for political progress, there had been little pressure from the Niueans - 260 themselves”. 67 But it was the Niueans who finally altered the pace of that progress by making it abundantly clear to everyone that the political development was progressing too fast. The Constitutional Report of 1965 recognised that the right of self-determination is a continuing right and it recommended that no future developments should take place without the full approval of the Niuean people. For their part the Niueans have now begun to recognise the power and responsibility involved in the right of self-determination, a recognition that will make future Niue-New Zealand consultations more meaningful than in the past.

The United Nations, and more particularly the Committee of Twenty-four, is still sceptical however. Towards the end of 1967 the Committee turned to consider Niue and the Tokelau Islands and in its report stated that “the slow progress in Niue and the Tokelau Islands towards self-determination and independence is due, in part, to inadequate training and education of the indigenous people”. 68 The report also repeated the recommendation that a visiting mission should go to the area, reaffirmed the “inalienable right of the people to self-determination and independence” and stated that “the question of size, isolation and limited resources should not in any way delay the application of that resolution [the Declaration on Colonialism] to these territories”. The report did not recognise that the Niueans had already begun to exercise their right of self-determination by requesting that the political developments be slowed down; and, as the New Zealand representative questioned, by what criteria could the development in Niue be judged “slow”? In the discussion of the report it was obvious that some delegations did not believe or refused to accept the statement that it was the Niueans, not the New Zealand Government, that wanted to slow down political developments. The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that “his delegation found it hard to accept the statement of a colonial Power without being able to verify its accuracy”. 69 The Mali representative went even further and stated categorically that “his delegation could not accept the suggestion that the people were hesitant about progress to independence”. 70 It is ironic that just when the Niueans are beginning to have a meaningful say in their own affairs that the very organisation which is endeavouring to aid such development has difficulty in accepting that it is taking place.

The Committee of Twenty-four has now acquired considerable powers to investigate developments in non-self-governing territories, powers almost as great as those of the Trusteeship Council; but both bodies have ultimately to rely on the co-operation of the administering Powers (as has been made obvious with South West Africa). If for no other reason than this, the Committee of Twenty-four must be responsive to the individual difficulties of both the administered territories and the administering countries. By trying to impose one theoretical approach on all non-self-governing territories in which the only accepted development is immediate independence, the Committee is in as much danger as are many of the - 261 administering Powers of forcing on the territories a system of government which the people are unable to operate effectively and which is not suited to their needs.

This, however, does not invalidate some of the criticisms that can be made of New Zealand policy in Niue. For too long New Zealand was insensitive to the need for “great tact, skill and forebearance”, 71 in helping the Niueans to assume responsibility for their own affairs. Nor were the interests of the inhabitants of the territory always regarded as paramount, especially when they competed with New Zealand's international reputation. Nor is it clear that the Cabinet system of government is the system best suited to the Niueans' needs.

What then of the future for Niue Island? An indication of New Zealand's future attitude towards Niue was seen recently in the reaction to the Committee of Twenty-four's report on Niue and the Tokelaus. 72 For the first time in the history of the United Nations involvement in Niue's political development, the New Zealand Government has openly criticised the Committee of Twenty-four. Significantly, the attack was opened in New Zealand by the Prime Minister, who stated in the House of Representatives that the report on Niue and the Tokelaus “reflects more the doctrinaire principles of its majority than the actual facts of the situation”. He added that “the New Zealand Government is not going to force upon these people a pace of political development which runs counter to their freely expressed wishes”. 73 On this issue he was supported by members of both sides of the House. It thus appears likely that in the future the Niueans will have a real influence on further political developments working, of course, within the broad structure of the Cabinet system of government which has already been established. This does not exclude the possibility of the United Nations' influence once again affecting the speed of change but now the Niueans are beginning to understand the power behind their right of self-determination, and for its part the New Zealand Government is now showing a willingness to respect that right even at the cost of United Nations' criticism.

  • AIKMAN, C. C., 1956. First Report on Constitutional Survey of the Cook Islands. Wellington. Mimeographed.
  • ——1965. Constitutional Report on Niue Island. Wellington. Mimeographed.
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  • UNGAOR: United Nations General Assembly Official Records.
1   Ross 1964:245.
2   Two petitions had already been made, in 1887 and 1898 (probably “assisted” by the London Missionary Society missionaries in Niue). However, up until the 1899 Samoan Convention, Niue had been declared neutral under the Anglo-German Convention of 1886. In 1899 Britain renounced her rights in the Samoan islands of Upolu and Savaii in favour of Germany and in return Germany renounced her rights in Tonga and Niue along with a number of other islands. See Morrell 1960: 297-309. For a history of the pre-1900 period of Niue see McDowell 1961.
3   Thomson 1902:111.
4   The annexation was a curious arrangement as the island became territorially a part of New Zealand and, nominally at least, the Niueans became full New Zealand citizens. But they were given no representation in the New Zealand Parliament and exit permits signed by the Resident Commissioner were, and apparently still are, required for a Niuean to move from Niue to New Zealand; that is from one part of New Zealand to another. See AJHRNZ A-3 1956, and Beaglehole 1948.
5   Smith 1902; Thomson 1902.
6   AJHRNZ A-6 1938:5.
7   AJHRNZ A-3 1948:29.
8   AJHRNZ A-3 up to 1933 and after 1945, AJHRNZ A-6 from 1934 to 1941.
9   Thomson 1902:141.
10   McDowell 1961:224.
11   AJHRNZ A-3 1954:64.
12   Total expenditure in 1952-3 was £100,918; 1953-4 £137,069; and 1954-5 £188,269. The New Zealand subsidy rose from £49,671 in 1952-3, to £83,184 in 1953-4, and to £99,254 in 1954-5. Figures from various AJHRNZ A-3 reports.
13   Aikman 1956.
14   AJHRNZ A-3 1958:82.
15   AJHRNZ A-3 1959:77-78.
16   AJHRNZ A-3 1961:68-69.
17   That is, one Assemblyman from each village, apart from Alofi which had two members. A new seat was created for the village of Toi. The total number of votes cast per seat varied from 57 to 278. Niue Newsletter No. 7, 1960:1-3.
18   Mr. A. O. Dare replaced Mr. McEwen as Resident Commissioner in 1956 and returned to New Zealand in December 1958.
19   For example, the Annual Report of 1936 stated, “They [the Niueans] are a people well worth saving and every endeavour is being made to preserve the race and to assist them in every way possible, particularly at the present time when they desire to travel the difficult road of civilization”. AJHRNZ A-6 1936:3.
20   The Australian-New Zealand Agreement 1944.
21   Gilchrist 1945:985.
22   Hereafter refered to as the Committee on Information. The 1947 Committee established by the General Assembly was appointed for only one year and was called the “Ad hoc Committee on Information Transmitted under Article 73(e) of the Charter”. The following year it became the “Special Committee on Information Transmitted under Article 73(e) of the Charter” appointed for one year, and in 1949 for three years; and it was not until 1952 that it became the “Committee on Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories” appointed for three years. See Official Records of the General Assembly, Second Part of the First Session, Resolution 66(I); Second Session, Resolution 146(II); and Sixth Session, Resolution 569(VI).
23   Hall 1948:288.
24   Hereafter referred to as the Committee of Twenty-four.
25   As yet there is still no obligation for administering powers to accept visiting missions as there is under the trusteeship system but on the other hand the Committee of Twenty-four is not equally balanced in membership between administering and non-administering powers as is the Trusteeship Council.
26   Reports of the Committee on Information are contained in United Nations Document series A/AC55/ . . .
27   External Affairs Review No. 1, 1957:71; No. 10, 1957:36.
28   Hereafter referred to as the Declaration on Colonialism. United Nations' document A/RES/1514(XV), 15 December 1960.
29   Aikman 1956:20.
30   Boyd 1957. (My italics).
31   Mr. Foss Shanahan. UNGAOR 1960 Vol. 1:1073.
32   In fact, in the Annual Reports for the Cook Islands, Niue and the Tokelaus, New Zealand often reported briefly on political measures although she was not obliged to do so under Article 73(e) of the Charter.
33   New Zealand's Participation in the United Nations 1961:40.
34   Mr. A. D. McIntosh. External Affairs Review No. 10, 1963:38.
35   Article 73.
36   General Assembly Resolution 742(VIII).
37   Referring to the Niuean solution the representative for Burma (U. Tin Maung) stated in the Fourth Committee that “It was clear that the goal set for the Islanders was not complete independence but full internal self-government, but he did not consider that by the attainment of that goal the administering Power would have discharged its obligations under the Declaration”. UNGAOR 1962 Vol. 3:629.
38   There was a precedent for this solution in the case of Puerto Rico which became a self-governing entity in political association with the United States in 1953. This was accepted by the United Nations as fulfilling the obligations of the Charter. See General Assembly resolution 748(VIII).
39   In Sub-Committee II of the Committee of Twenty-four. United Nations' document A/AC109/SC3/SR3.
40   “While the constitutional progress in the Cook Islands has been substantial progress towards self-government in Niue and particularly in the Tokelau Islands has not always kept pace with changing times”. External Affairs Review No. 7, 1964:46.
41   Mr. Shaknov in the Committee of Twenty-four. United Nations' document A/AC109/SR304.
42   Sub-Committee II of the Committee of Twenty-four. United Nations document A/AC109/SC3/SR47.
43   It was sometime, however, before the Assembly made any important economic decisions.
44   AJHRNZ A-6 1938:4.
45   General Assembly Resolution 742(VIII).
46   PLA-C1 1962:104.
47   ibid.
48   Niue Newsletter No. 6, 1962:6.
49   PLA-C1 1962:104.
50   This option of “full internal self-government” was described later in the United Nations as “full internal self-government and a free association with New Zealand” and the course of constitutional development in Niue and the Cook Islands was often referred to in these words. (Corner, External Affairs Review, No. 4, 1964:33). What was meant by “full internal self-government and a free association with New Zealand” is not apparent. As Niue was, and still is, a part of New Zealand presumably this meant that full internal self-government would not alter the Niuean possession of New Zealand citizenship and the control of external affairs by the New Zealand Government. Mr. Götz said as much in his speech to the Cook Islands Legislative Assembly. But if this was a free association with New Zealand then presumably it could be altered unilaterally by the Niueans at any time—they could choose to become independent if they wanted to. This was not the case, as was made obvious by Mr. Götz when he said that under full internal self-government New Zealand would remain responsible for constitutional development. In 1964, however, the Annual Report of the Department of Island Territories spelt out in some detail what was involved in this option. In commenting on the proposed timetable the Report stated, “in brief these stages are planned to lead to the establishment of complete internal self-government in the Cook Islands and Niue, to be followed then by a decision by the island peoples in accordance with United Nations' principles, as to their ultimate constitutional future.” (AJHRNZ A-5 1963:4) It is thus incorrect to describe the option chosen by the Niueans as “full internal self-government and free association with New Zealand”: this is a status which they might decide upon (as did the Cook Islanders) when they reach full internal self-government, not an option for constitutional development.
51   External Affairs Review No. 12, 1963:27.
52   The timetable was as follows :
In 1963 there will be established in the Cooks and Niue, Executive Councils whose membership, apart from the Resident Commissioner appointed from New Zealand will be chosen by the Legislative Assemblies.
In 1964 the Resident Commissioner and remaining official members will withdraw from each Legislative Assembly and Executive Council. The latter will then become fully-fledged Cabinets, responsible to each Assembly for the administration and good government of the territory.
Mr. H. V. Roberts, External Affairs Review No. 12, 1962:35.
53   ibid.
54   Niue Newsletter No. 15, 1963:5-7.
55   The new timetable was:
1963 (1) Increase membership of the Executive Committee to four members elected by the Assembly with the Resident Commissioner as President.
1964 (1) Reconstitute the Executive Committee as a Cabinet.
(2) Election of member to act as leader of Government Business.
(3) The reservation on certain New Zealand legislation to be progressively removed.
1965 (1) Withdrawal of Resident Commissioner from the Niue Island Assembly.
(2) Further increase the legislative powers of the Assembly.
1966 (1) Establish an Executive Council.
(2) Appointment of the Resident Commissioner as constitutional head of state or the New Zealand Government Representative.”
Niue Newsletter No. 13, 1963:4.
56   ibid:3.
57   External Affairs Review No. 4, 1964:33. (Italics not in original).
58   Niue Newsletter No. 17, 1963:12.
59   Niue Newsletter No. 4, 1965:8.
60   Aikman 1965:2.
61   “The role which we are suggesting for the Resident Commissioner will not be an easy one. It will call for great tact, skill and forebearance, since it must clearly be his task to encourage the Leader of Government Business, and other members of the Executive Committee to assume responsibilities for the Government of Niue. Only in this way can members of the Executive Committee gain the experience of administration which is the essential prerequisite to the introduction of a full system of responsible government.” ibid:5.
62   Tohi Tala Niue No. 16A, 1966:2.
63   AJHRNZ A-5 1965:65.
64   External Affairs Review No. 12, 1957:9.
65   AJHRNZ A-3 1964:68.
66   The Reverend W.G. Lawes writing to the London Missionary Society Secretary, Dr. Tidman, 19 April 1862. Quoted by McDowell 1961:162.
67   Mr. Corner, Sub-Committee II of the Committee of Twenty-four. United Nations' document A/AC109/SC3/SR47.
68   United Nations' document A/6700/Add13:51.
69   ibid:40.
70   ibid.(My italics).
71   Aikman 1965:5.
72   United Nations' document A/6700/Add13:50-52.
73   External Affairs Review No. 9, 1967:34.