Part of New Zealand since 1901, the Cook Islands became internally self-governing on 4 August 1965. The Cook Islands Constitution Act of 1964 established the island group as wholly self-ruling but possessed of common citizenship with New Zealand as well as of a common head of state (the Queen). New Zealand exercises certain responsibilities for the defense and external affairs of the islands, in consultation with the Cook Islands government. Full independence from New Zealand is planned for 2007.
A parliamentary type of government, like New Zealand's, characterizes the new political relationship, with a cabinet composed of a prime minister and six other ministers. The 24-member Legislative Assembly—to which the prime minister and other cabinet members are responsible—is elected by the adult population of the islands every four years and can void the applicability of New Zealand laws to the territory under its jurisdiction. The constitution of the autonomous islands also allows a declaration of independence, if ever this should be the wish of the political leadership. The office of New Zealand high commissioner was abolished in 1975 and replaced by the office of Queen's representative. Cook Islands products continue to enter New Zealand freely, and the level of subsidies to the islands from the New Zealand government has persisted.
The population (estimated in 2002 at 20,811) is Polynesian and close in language and tradition to the New Zealand Maori. They are converts to Christianity. The islands are visited by government and freight vessels, and interisland shipping services are provided by commercially owned boats. An international airport opened for full services in 1973. There are three radio stations (1 AM and 2 FM). The Cook Islands, 15 islands lying between 8° and 23° S and 156° and 167° W , more than 3,220 km (2,000 mi) northeast of New Zealand, were discovered by James Cook in 1773. They became a British protectorate in 1888 and were annexed to New Zealand in 1901. They consist of the Southern Group—8 islands, the largest of which are Rarotonga (6,666 ha/16,472 acres) and Mangaia (5,191 ha/12,827 acres); and the Northern Group—7 islands varying in size from Penrhyn (984 ha/2,432 acres) to Nassau (121 ha/299 acres). The total area is 241 sq km (93 sq mi). The northern islands are low-lying coral atolls, while the southern islands, including Rarotonga, the administrative seat, are elevated and fertile, and have the greater population. Except for Rarotonga, the islands suffer from lack of streams and wells, and water must be conserved. The islands lie within the hurricane area and sometimes experience destructive storms.
The economy is based on agriculture, with the main exports being copra, papayas, fresh and canned citrus fruit, and coffee. Other exports are fish, pearls, pearl shells, and clothing. Total exports were valued at US $9.1 million in 2000. The main imports are foodstuffs, textiles, fuels, timber, and capital goods. In 2000, imports amounted to US $50.7 million.
Revenue for public finances is derived mainly from import duties and income tax. The 2000–01 budget envisioned expenditures of US $27 million. The New Zealand government provided grants and subsidies for capital development in health, education, other social services, economic development, and other purposes, covering one-third of the budget.
Free compulsory education is provided by the government at primary and secondary levels for all children between the ages of 6 and 15, and an estimated 95% of the population is literate. All Cook Islanders receive free medical and surgical treatment, and schoolchildren receive free dental care.
An isolated coral island, Niue is 966 km (600 mi) northwest of the southern Cook Islands, and located at 19°02′ S and 169°52′ W . Niue became a British protectorate in 1900 and was annexed to New Zealand in 1901. Although Niue forms part of the Cook Islands, because of its remoteness and cultural and linguistic differences it has been separately administered. Niue has an area of 258 sq km (100 sq mi). Its population (of Polynesian stock) was 2,134 in 2002, up slightly from 1,997 in 1993, but still below the peak of 5,194 in 1966. The population decline was principally due to emigration to New Zealand, where Niueans outnumber those remaining on the island by two to one.
Niue became self-governing on 19 October 1974, in free association with New Zealand. Under the constitution, the former leader of government became the premier. An assembly of 20 members is elected by universal suffrage; 14 members represent village constituencies, and 6 are elected at large. The constitution provides for New Zealand to exercise various responsibilities for the external affairs and defense of Niue and to furnish economic and administrative assistance.
Niue's soil, although fertile, is not plentiful; arable land is confined to small pockets of soil among the coral rocks, making agriculture difficult, although the economy is based mainly on agriculture. Since there are no running streams, the island is dependent on rainwater. Exports include canned coconut cream, copra, honey, vanilla, passionfruit products, pawpaws, root crops, limes, footballs, stamps, and handicrafts; in 1999 income from exports was $137,200. As of 2001, there were 234 km (146 mi) of road, 86 km (54 mi) of which are paved. A telephone system, with nearly 400 main lines as of the 1990s, connects the villages, and an airport became fully operational in 1971.
Budget deficits are met by the New Zealand government, which also makes grants for capital development. Health services and education are free. Education is compulsory for children 5 to 14 years of age.
The Tokelau Islands, situated between 8° and 10° S and 171° and 173° W , about 483 km (300 mi) north of Western Samoa, consist of three atolls, Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Atafu. Total area is about 10 sq km (4 sq mi). Each atoll has a lagoon encircled by a number of reef-bound islets varying in length from about 90 m to6.4 km (100 yards to 4 mi), in width from 90 m to 360 m (100– 400 yards), and extending more than 3 m (10 ft) above sea level. All villages are on the leeward side, close to passages through the reefs. Lying in the hurricane belt, the islands have a mean annual rainfall of 305 cm (120 in). The inhabitants, of Polynesian origin, are British subjects and New Zealand citizens. Total population in 2002 was estimated at 1,431, down from 1,760 in 1992. Formerly part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands group, the Tokelaus were transferred to New Zealand at the beginning of 1949. There is no resident European staff; executive functions are carried out on each atoll by appointed Tokelau mayors, magistrates, clerks, and other officials. An administrative officer based in Samoa coordinates administrative services for the islands. Samoan is the official language.
Subsistence farming and the production of copra for export are the main occupations. The total fish catch was 190 tons in 1994. Visits are made regularly by New Zealand Air Force planes, and a chartered vessel makes regular trading visits. Sources of revenue are an export duty on coconuts, copra, customs dues, postage stamps, and trading profits.
Government expenditure is devoted mainly to agriculture, the provision of social services, and administrative costs. Annual deficits are met by New Zealand government subsidies. New Zealand's annual budgetary aid was estimated at US $4 million in 2000. Nutrition and health are reasonably good.
The Ross Dependency (between 160° E and 150° W and south of 60° S ) is a section of the Antarctic continent that was brought under the jurisdiction of New Zealand in 1923. Its area is estimated at 414,400 sq km (160,000 sq mi). It is almost entirely covered by ice and is largely uninhabited. New Zealand activities in the dependency are coordinated and supervised by the Ross Dependency Research Committee (a government agency) and implemented by the Antarctic division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Exploitation of the region, apart from scientific expeditions, has been confined to whaling. A joint US-New Zealand scientific station established at Cape Hallett in 1957 for participation in the International Geophysical Year continues to operate for purposes of scientific research.