Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown said the government was in talks with Australia about future funding support. The outcome of these discussions would be released in due course.
Figures provided to Senate MPs show Australian health aid has been cut across the Pacific – Fiji is down 22 per cent, Samoa is down 36 per cent – and the cuts came as a precursor to the region being hard-hit by measles and dengue.
This year, the signals from Australia are that its overall aid spending on Cook Islands will be even lower, because Cook Islands is now deemed by the OECD to be a developed nation.
Overall, Australia has increased its aid across the wider Pacific, the Guardian reports, but its spending has been on infrastructure at the expense of health.
Brown said aid funding from Australia had been “harmonised” into the New Zealand core sector support for Cook Islands, allowing the government here to decide where it was spend. It had been allocated to health, education and tourism.
He said there was a separate allocation specifically to support the operations of Te Kukupa police patrol boat.
Government records show $8 million funding from Australia in 2014/15, including $149,150 on disability inclusiveness and trauma training, and $6.8 million from the Australian Defence Force for the police patrol boat Te Kukupa.
“Regardless, it is clear that these figures are low – in particular the support to health,” Brown said. That meant a 75 per cent fluctuation didn’t have a big impact on Cook Islands’ budget.
Australian provided Au$1.9 million (NZ$2m) in bilateral funding last financial year, Au$1.3 million in regional funding, and Au$200,000 in direct development aid.
Specific projects included helping upgrade septic tanks to a reticulated wastewater system, and working to eliminate violence against women and help them become economically self-sufficient.
“Future development assistance to Cook Islands will focus on supporting engagement in regional initiatives, and will not be reported as Overseas Development Assistance,” the department says.
Australia budgeted no funding for Cook Islands in its 2019/20 Budget, but Brown said it was likely Australians still provided third-party support last year.
Over the next four years, Australia is promising Au$8 million (NZ$8.35m) funding – but that will all be on supporting Cook Islands to operate in regional fora like the Australia/NZ-sponsored PACER-Plus regional trade deal.