Presentation of the Anti-Chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga Petition

Presentation to Parliament: MPs Selina Napa and Vaitoti Tupa.

Presentation of the Anti-Chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga Petition.
Compiled by: Justine Flanagan, Andy Kirkwood.

[www.islandbooth.com/comm/200619-anti-chem-petition.html].
Contact: [firstName] @ islandbooth.com.

Masthead MPs Selina Napa and Vaitoti Tupa on presentation of the public petition Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga.

 

This is a working draft. Published 19 June 2020. Updated 9 July 2020.

 

A public petition was drafted in 2019 by community group Te Vai Ora Maori, calling for the Cook Islands government to address issues with the Te Mato Vai Project, a $100m+ upgrade of the water treatment and distribution systems of the capital island of Rarotonga.

Prefiguring: The Te Mato Vai Project Petition (2014-2017)

The public petition: Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga, covers similar terrain to the Te Mato Vai Project Petition (2014), which set out concerns regarding the appropriateness of the engineering solutions proposed by the Te Mato Vai Master Plan.

The Te Mato Vai petition received 1946 signatures, but the Speaker did not ensure the petition was appointed to a select committee when it was presented to Parliament in April 2014.

The petition was revived in 2015, and mid-2016, a select committee finally appointed to consider the grievances, meeting in Dec 2016. The Te Mato Vai Special Select Committee Report was tabled in Parliament in June 2017, and comprises cheifly a repurposed Cabinet-endorsed press release. The release was authored by the government water engineers GHD, and originally issued in April 2014 (two days prior to the presentation of the petition). Select Committee member, MP James Beer later criticised both the report, and the integrity of the select committee process.

Culturally-appropriate water treatment

Contrary the headlining by local media – who have referred to organisers as the ‘Anti-chlorine Group’; and the petition as the ‘Anti-chlorine Petition’ – the petition seeks water treatment methods that are culturally and environmentally appropriate; and to draw attention to what is perceived as unilateral decision-making by executive government. A notable example being the construction of chemical storage and dosing facilities; the hiring and training of staff in chemical handling; and undertaking to procure chemical supply at the same time as undertaking public consultations on the potential water treatment options.

‘Chlorine’ or ‘chlorination’ are not mentioned in the text of the Water Petition, the grievances relate to project managment and the specification of the proposed treatment system. The Prayer seeks that chemical treatment methods cease until the relevant consultation processes have been concluded; that physical treatment methods be further investigated and implemented; and that the water remain free to the public of Rarotonga. (The To Tatou Vai Bill (read 8 July 2020) proposes to introduce metering and water access charges.)

The petition was delivered to the Clerk of Parliament for processing in Dec 2019, and 1433 signatories verified. Organisers hoped for tabling at the March 2020 sitting, however priority was given to Covid-19 relief measures and the controversial amendments to helmet laws… which were last ammended in 2016.

The petition was presented to Parliament by the honourable member for Titikaveka, Selina Napa on the 17th June 2020.

 

Petition Presentation

Petition Presentation begins at 39:50. View on Facebook.

Transcript

Parliament of the Cook Islands: 1-3pm sitting, 17 June 2020.

------------------ Petition Presentation Begins 39:50 ------------------
  • Selina Napa, MP for Titikaveta: Madam Speaker – I lay this petition on the table.
  • Madam Speaker: Thank you. We will move on to the presentation of the Petition…and you have the floor.
  • SN: Thank you Madam Speaker.
    Madam Speaker pursuant to Standing Orders 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81 and 82.
    I, honourable member for Titikaveka Selina Napa, have the honour to submit to this honourable House a Petition by concerned residents in Rarotonga on Anti-chemical Treatment of Water Supply.
    Madam Speaker, this is a Petition signed by 1433 people in Rarotonga. As certified by the Clerk of the House.
    And in doing so Madam Speaker, if I may, I hold that petition in my hand.
    And it is a petition containing signatures of concerned citizens in Rarotonga who have expressed their concerns with the fact that only 1% of the water collected is used for drinking and 99% will be chemically treated unnecessarily.
  • [ ---The Petition Prayer--- ]
  • Wherefore your Petitioners pray, that the Cook Islands Government and its associated agencies responsible for the water supply of Rarotonga:
    • Cease immediately any action to use chemicals to treat the water supply of Rarotonga.
    • Undertake genuine meaningful analysis, consultation, evaluation and decision making processes that will result in sustainable and locally-relevant water supply system(s) for Rarotonga.
    • Ensure that the domestic supply of water remains free for the People of Rarotonga.
  • [ ---Petition Prayer Ends--- ]

  • SN: Madam Speaker pursuant to standing order 81, I move that this petition be read.
  • MS: I seek a seconder for the motion, I see the honourable Vaitoti Tupa.
  • Vaitoti Tupa, MP for Matavera: Madam Speaker I stand to second the motion.
  • MS: The motion is seconded by the honourable member Vaitoti Tupa.
  • VT: If there is a chance…
  • MS: There is no debate involved.
  • Honourable members, I will now put the question on the motion, and the question is that the motion that the petition be read is agreed to. Those in favour say “aye”, those opposed say “no”.
  • It is unclear to me what that decision is, the loudness is the same.
  • The honourable member calls for a division…
  • We have to follow the rules of the House.
     
  • [ --- Division process conducted --- ]

  • MS: The “ayes” have 11 and the “no’s” 13. So the motion is defeated.
  • That completes the business before…orders of the day, we now go to orders of the day.
----------------Petition Presentation Ends 54:32-----------------------
 

‘We have to follow the rule of the House’

Parliamentary staff and members evidently considered that the outcome of the motion also signalled that the petition itself — had been ‘defeated!’.

However, this interpretation is at odds with the Standing Orders of the Parliament of the Cook Islands. The only method by which a petition can be disposed, is by referral to a select committee. The outcome of the motion to read, has no bearing on the disposal of a petition. The presentation of the petition has not been concluded, following the outcome of the motion to read, Parliament is required to appoint a select committee to consider the petition.

The purpose of petitioning is to request that government to consider a matter, in order for informed decisions to be made. A petition is often drawn to challenge the current government. Enabling such a challenge to be summarily dismissed, by the same government, undermines the democratic process.

A system allowing MPs to vote to prevent a petition from being heard – without even reading the petition – ‘defeats’ the purpose.

The Members Debate: 19 June

The leader of the opposition, the prime minister and the honorable member for Pukapuka Tingika Elikana debated the interpretation of Petition Standing Orders in Question Time, 19 June. The opposition interpretation being that the petition should be referred to select committee, the ruling party arguing that referral is only when the full-text is read aloud.

Interpretation of keywords

Although the orders are structured (and numbered) sequentially; correct execution relies on an accurate understanding of keywords that are used to differentiate between procedures that are optional or discretionary; and those which are required to be completed/mandatory.

Standing Orders 81 and 82.

Source: Standing Orders of the Parliament of the Cook Islands (Cook Islands Parliament).

Standing Orders 70 through 82 set out the appropriate procedures for dealing with a petition. The motion calling for the petition to be read is optional, as indicated by the use of the keyword ‘may’.

81. Member may move that petition be read – On a petition being presented any member may move that it be read. No debate shall be permitted on such motion, and if seconded the question shall be put forthwith. If the motion is agreed to the Clerk shall read the petition.

Making the reading of the petition at the discretion of the members avoids the Clerk reading aloud what could be a lengthy document. (The MP tabling the petition has already read the prayer, which provides the essence of the action sought by the petitioners.)

The motion to read was correctly put forth by the Speaker, however it is only the motion to read (and not a motion to accept the petition), that was defeated by the 11/13 vote.

The processing of a petition is referred to as disposal. If disposal is dependent on the outcome of the motion to read, then this would be stated in Standing Orders. The Speaker’s interpretation is that that the keyword read should be understood to mean ‘accept’ or ‘progress to select committee’.

Historically, [‘reading’] derives from the practice in the early parliaments of England when most MPs were illiterate and the Clerk actually first read the Bill in its entirety so members knew what they were considering.
First reading, Handbook for the Parliament of the Cook Islands

Members of the coalition government rise to defeat democracy.

Call for Division: Members of the Cook Islands coalition government stand to defend autocracy. Cook Islands Parliament, 17 June 2020.

Standing Order 82 defines the final action taken (within Parliament) to progress the petition process.

82. Disposal of petitions – All petitions shall be ordered, without question put, to lie upon the Table and shall then stand referred to a select committee appointed by Parliament.

Use of the keyword ‘shall‘ indicates that referral to a select committee is obligatory/mandatory. Disposal applies to all petitions; and not solely to a petition that has been read aloud by the Clerk.

In the absence of resolution based on the wording of Standing Orders, it then moves to a consideration of principles — the intent and purpose of the petitioning process given the tradition and history of the Westminster system of governance. Seeking resolution by way of the pratice of the New Zealand House of Representatives and the United Kingdown House of Commons is the direction provided by Standing Orders:

2. General rule for conduct of business – In all cases not provided for hereinafter, or by other rules or practice of Parliament, resort shall be had to the practice of the House of Representatives of New Zealand and the Commons House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in force for the time being, which shall be followed as far as it can be applied.
 

Expert interpretation

The petition organisers sought an expert interpretation of standing orders and received reply from the Clerk of the (UK) House of Commons, a former Clerk of the Parliament of the Cook Islands, and the Clerk of the House of Representatives of New Zealand.

The Clerks of the UK and Cook Islands agreed that the petition should be referred to a select committee. The Clerk of New Zealand was unwilling to offer an interpretation of Cook Islands Standing Orders.

The Clerks of the UK and NZ further advised that where interpretation of Standing Orders is not resolved to the satisfaction of the MPs, that a motion of No confidence (in the Speaker) may be put. Even when such a motion is not passed by majority, the Speaker is duty-bound to tend their resignation.

The letters of advice were forwarded to the Clerk and Speaker for consideration.

 

Interpretation accepted, but…

Speaker Niki Rattle.

The Speaker rules. Cook Islands Parliament, 1 July 2020.

The interpretation of Standing Orders was addressed in an annoucement by the Speaker 1 July 2020 (following the decision on a motion to ban media from the Cook Islands Parliament).

Announcement begins at 20:58. View on Facebook.

Transcript

Parliament of the Cook Islands: 1-3pm sitting, 1 July 2020.

--------------------- Announcement Begins 20:58 ---------------------
  • Madam Speaker: And this will be my decision. On the advice given to me on the Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga petition.
  • Having received the advice about the applicable standing orders of the petition process; a petition that is in order will be referred to a select committee whether or not it has been read under Standing Order 81.
  • As Speaker I am ruling the petition out of order as the first prayer of relief is outside the power of Parliament. The first prayer is for Parliament to ‘cease immediately any action to use  chemicals to treat the water supply of Rarotonga’.
  • This is asking Parliament to issue an injunction.
  • This is not the power of Parliament. Accordingly the [petition] will not be received  by Parliament and will not be referred to a select committee.
------------------- Announcement Ends 24:00 -----------------------

All petitions…

The Speaker’s announcement has settled the member debate on the intrepretation of Standing Orders: “a petition that is in order will be referred to a select committee whether or not it has been read under Standing Order 81”.

The Clerk’s Endorsement

The Speaker then claimed the Petition to be “out of order”: meaning that it goes against the rules of Parliament. Referring to Standing Order 76, it is the duty of the Clerk to verify a petition before it is tabled — this process is referred to as the petition having been endorsed.

76. Rules for preparation of a petition — No petition shall be presented to Parliament unless it shall have been endorsed by the Clerk as having been prepared in accordance with the following rules:
(i) Every petition shall be clearly written by hand, typewritten, duplicated, or printed, or partly one and partly one or more of the others;
(ii) No erasures or interlineations may be made on any petition;

Prior to presentation, the Water Petition was endorsed by the Acting Clerk (and was also endorsed by the Former Clerk). Standing Orders do not direct the Speaker to interpret the text of a petition.

A very judicial Speaker

The Speaker’s interpretation of the first prayer reveals a bias toward a judicial (rather than legislative) understanding of terms.

Although deliberately mischevious, a lawyer might provide advice to the Speaker recommending an interpretration of ‘cease’ as a shortened reference to a ‘cease and desist order’. However Parliament is not a Court of Law; and the Speaker is not a Judge.

The public has a right to request that an action stop (cease). Reference to the 2015 Purse Seining petion also shows the public asking Executive Government to ‘stop’: ‘sell no more days’; and ‘phase out purse seine fishing’.

WHEREFORE YOUR PETITIONERS PRAY:

  • That the Cook Islands Government sells no more days for purse seine fishing as of the public consultation on purse seine fishing on 16 March, 2015, and
  • That the Cook Islands Government phase out purse seine fishing in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone when the current licences expire, and at latest by March 2016.

-Hansard of the Parliament of the Cook Islands, 14 Dec 2015.

The full-text of the petition

The first prayer must also be read in its entirety, beginning at ‘Wherefore’. Although the petition has been presented to Parliament it is directed to: the Cook Islands [Executive] Government and its associated agencies responsible for the water supply of Rarotonga. The petitioners grievances are raised through Parliament as the matter is in the public interest.

WHEREFORE YOUR PETITIONERS PRAY:

That the Cook Islands Government and its associated agencies responsible for the water supply of Rarotonga:

  • Cease immediately any action to use chemicals to treat the water supply of Rarotonga.
  • Undertake genuine meaningful analysis, consultation, evaluation and decision making processes that will result in sustainable and locally-relevant water supply system(s) for Rarotonga.
  • Ensure that the domestic supply of water remains free for the People of Rarotonga.

Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga

The appropriate authority is the author

Once again the petition organisers reponded to the Clerk and Speaker.

The petitioners – the People of Rarotonga, respond:

  1. Petition Standing Orders do not call upon the Speaker to interpret the text of a petition.
  2. When an interpretation of a petition is required, the appropriate authority to consult is the author of the petition. In this instance, the petition organisers.
  3. The first prayer of relief does not “[ask] Parliament to issue an injunction”.
  4. The authors of the Petition assert that ‘cease’ should be understood in the broadest sense – to mean ‘stop’.
  5. To be clear: ‘cease’ does not mean ‘cease and desist order’.

As we have corrected the misinterpretation, Standing Orders now require Parliament to appoint a select committee (as per S/O 82).

-Te Vai Ora Maori: Formal response to Speaker’s announcement 1 July 2020 (sent 2 July 2020).

The petition organisers requested that the opposition raise the petition in Question Time in the 8 July sitting. The July session of Parliament ended without further comment from either the opposition or the Speaker. It remains for the petition to be appointed to a select committee.

 

Classification/subjects: Te Mato Vai, To Tatou Vai Bill, chlorination, disinfection, chemical water treatment, Cook Islands Parliament, petitions, petitioning, Rarotonga, Speaker, Niki Rattle, Standing Orders, democracy, autocracy, anti-chlorine, Westminster Parliamentary system, Pacific Islands governance.

 

Parliament of the Cook Islands

News

Also includes references to the earlier Te Mato Vai Project Petition (2014).

  • 2 Apr 2014: A Response to the Te Mato Vai Petition Points: Authorised by Cabinet, Cook Islands Government. Cook Islands Herald
    Comment: Published in advance of the presentation of the petition to Parliament - also in advance of the hearing of the petition by the Te Mato Vai Special Select Committee. The subsequent document presented as the Te Mato Vai Project Select Committee Report (Nov 2016) is a copy-paste of this release.
  • 19 Apr 2014: Petition group grieved by lost opportunity. George Pitt, Cook Island Herald.
    Te Mato Vai petition spokes person James Thomson said they are in doubt about the manner in which the Parliamentary due process was executed… “[due to] Rasmussen’s failure to have the Petition read and his failure to move a motion for government to form a select committee to review the petition then report back to the House.’
  • 11 May 2015 Interference and neglect. John Scott in Cook Islands News.
    The relevant Standing Order is S/O 82. It requires that once tabled the petition would stand referred to a Select Committee to be appointed by Parliament.
    Government of course was delighted to think that the ill-conceived and constitutionally questionable hasty dissolution of Parliament last April [2014] meant that the whole annoying thing had been brilliantly despatched forever.
    Government’s frustration of due process with Te Mato Vai Petition and the continuing trench digging and pipe laying have not, as Government no doubt would like to think, rendered further pursuit, airing and investigation of the petitioners' pleas academic. There are many features to those petitioners’ grievances which remain to be investigated.
  • 10 June 2015: Bid to Revive Project Petition. Rashneel Kumar, Cook Islands News.
    The motion failed to gain traction when it was tabled during the last Parliament sitting in April last year. The Opposition’s rationale for tabling the motion is based on the House of Commons and the New Zealand House of Representatives ruling that when a motion is tabled, it does not leave the House without being dealt with…
  • 1 Jun 2018: Te Mato Vai Select Committee Issues. James Beer in Cook Islands News.
    …the [Te Mato Vai Project Petition] Select Committee failed to discharge its responsibilities:
    The delay between the tabling and the eventual hearing was unacceptable.
    Witnesses were not sworn in, despite requests from the committee that they should.
    Committee chairman Mark Brown denied all requests for information related to costings.
    The committee failed to follow procedure set out in the Standing Orders.
    The petition was not answered by the Select Committee. The report to parliament failed to address many critical issues and was intended to silence criticism.
    The report sent to Parliament was not written by the committee and the views of some members were not reflected in the report.
  • 27 July 2019: Lobby group launches anti-chlorine petition. Rashneel Kumar, Cook Islands News.
    …recent water quality test indicate high levels of potentially harmful bacteria which the government says can be removed through disinfection.
    Te Vai Ora Maori say they believe Rarotonga can have clean and safe water - without chlorination.
  • 30 July 2019: Public servants in Petition row. Rashneel Kumar, Cook Islands News.
    Public servants are caught in a war of words over whether they’re allowed to speak their minds on chlorination.
    After widespread concerns that Cook Islands’ 2500-plus civil employees might face repercussions for signing a petition or marching in a protest against water disinfection, the Public Service Commissioner sent out a memorandum to all of them yesterday.
    According to the Code of Conduct, “publicly criticising government policies in an official capacity” constitutes misconduct, but it does not prohibit signing petitions or criticizing government policies in a private capacity.
  • 10 Dec 2019: Protestors deliver water petition. Cook Islands News.
    More than 1500 signatures opposing government’s chlorinated water project were delivered to Parliament yesterday. If approved, the petition will be tabled by Democratic Party MP Selina Napa. “The fact we have had to resort to doing a petition is disappointing because the people have been saying the same thing for almost a decade now. Every time, the people of Rarotonga have said ‘no chemicals’ and ‘free water for our people’…”.
  • 18 Jun 2020: Chlorine petition rejected. Rushneel Kumar, Cook Islands News.
    The petition opposing chlorine in Rarotonga’s drinking water was dismissed in Parliament yesterday. The petition, filed by the anti-chlorine group Te Vai Ora Maori, also opposed water rates for domestic users.
  • 24 Jun 2020: Uncertainty over water petition Katrina Tanirau, Cook Islands News.
    A community group lobbying for clean and safe water without using chemicals is waiting to find out where the petition they presented to Parliament now stands. But a number of MPs have hit back and said due process was followed and Standing Order 81 clearly states that if it is moved for a petition not to be read by a majority vote in the House, there essentially is no petition.
  • 25 Jun 2020: Speaker to decide this week on journalist ban Katrina Tanirau, Cook Islands News.
    Parliament’s Speaker is to decide this week whether a Cook Islands News article was incorrect and unfair and if the newspaper’s political journalist will be barred from Parliament.
    Comment: The likely reason why Puna is upset with CI News enough to side with Opposition: When PM leaves his job, he won’t be destitute
  • 27 Jun 2020: Justine Flanagan: Parliament is like our utu tree Cook Islands News.
    Our Parliament is much like this utu tree; under its canopy we determine our direction as a nation. However, the treatment of the last three public petitions reveals a pattern: Government uses Parliament to frustrate the process, and to silence the people.
  • 4 July 2020: Two strikes but not out for petition. Katrina Tanirau, Cook Islands News.
    Parliament’s Speaker Niki Rattle has ruled the Anti-Chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga petition out of order as Parliament does not have power to issue an injunction against treating the water with chemicals.
    The prayer does not ask Parliament to “issue an injunction”, Flanagan said. Parliament is not the Court. “For a person to obtain an injunction order they must have a legal right that has been violated, petitioners have no legal right for the Court to uphold. The prayer is not a private application seeking a Court order. A prayer is a public request presented to Parliament for consideration by a select committee.”
  • 7 July 2020: John M Scott: Just when will NZ step in? Cook Islands News.
    Quite aside from the non sequitur that the petitioners’ concerns are currently being considered by the Cook Islands judiciary, when they are not, the far more worrying part of its response were the words:
    “The Cook Islands is self-governing and it would not be appropriate for New Zealand to comment on the deliberations of the Cook Islands Parliament.”
    …how dire, deplorable or despicable does a breach have to be before New Zealand is compelled to step in?
  • 8 July 2020: Eric Short: Water rights impinge on land rights Cook Islands News.
    The Bill will give To Tatou Vai ownership of our valleys, our resources, our water. But this is not the government’s land and this is not the government’s water.
    If the To Tatou Vai Bill is passed, where do we stand?

News Archive: 2011–

Working Draft. Updated: 9 July 2020.

 
 

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