Key Points:

Tokelau has for the second time narrowly voted against becoming self-governing in free association with New Zealand.

The results of a referendum on the future of Tokelau had today fallen short of the two thirds majority support required for the territory to become autonomous.

Tokelau similarly voted against self-governance in February 2006.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said New Zealand respected the wishes of the people of Tokelau who have voted over the past few days to remain a dependent territory of New Zealand.

Helen Clark said New Zealand governments have long taken the view that it was for the people of Tokelau to decide both the direction and the pace of their political development.

"Now the voters of Tokelau have signalled again, albeit narrowly, that they do not want such a change at this time."

Helen Clark said Tokelau was already exercising most of the responsibilities of a self governing country, and the delegation of all New Zealand's administrative powers to Tokelau would remain in place.

"Tokelau can be assured of the New Zealand Government's ongoing friendship and support. We will continue our joint efforts with Tokelau to strengthen and improve the public services in Tokelau."

Helen Clark said major work on upgrading essential infrastructure was well underway, and Tokelau continued to make progress in ensuring that each atoll was able to operate as a vibrant, forward looking community.

At some time in the future Tokelau may wish to vote on its constitutional status again, she said.

"For now, those in Tokelau, and in the wider family of Tokelau outside the atolls, will want to reflect on this latest decision. In doing so it is important that all concerned with the future of Tokelau and its people know that Tokelau will retain the full support of New Zealand."

The result will have come as a shock to Tokelau's leader, Kuresa Nasau, who recently told the Herald he was confident the New Zealand territory would vote to cut its colonial ties in the referendum held across its three atolls.