The students have been working for the ministries of finance and economic management, health, justice, internal affairs, infrastructure, and Cook Islands Police.
Their trip was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has seen them involved in such legal tasks as legislative drafting, contract review, act regulation and a variety of other projects.
For example, the two students working with the Cook Islands Police Service, Katie Butterworth and Ashlee Carter, spent their time reviewing contracts and legal documents, regulating the Transport Act and assisting with legislative drafting, among other projects.
The students also edited police documents to conform to gender neutrality and achieve gender equality in line with national development goals.
Butterworth said it was “a privilege to be given such important projects which we hope will positively affect the lives of Cook Islanders, but we are very mindful of drafting legislation which is actually practical and helpful”.
Carter added, “We’ve been given such a high level of responsibility and it’s been so great being a part of Cook Islands culture.”
Both students looked forward to presenting their final drafts of a new Weapons Act to the police commissioner before the end of their stay.
Police commissioner Maara Tetava described the internship programme as “fantastic”, not only for the students but also for the police. The legal projects they were tasked with would otherwise have fallen by the wayside due to lack of appropriate funding for an in-house legal team, he said.
This is the second such group that has visited Rarotonga from the University of Newcastle, the first having been here two years ago in 2016. Both groups were brought over by Dr Kevin Sobel-Read, a corporate lawyer turned cultural anthropologist who did his PhD on sovereignty in the Cook Islands.
As well as his 10 students, Dr Sobel-Read was also accompanied on this trip by his wife Alison Sobel-Read and their two children, Nolan (12) and Tavake (9), both of whom attended Apii Te Uki Ou for two weeks of their three-week stay.
The internships for Dr Sobel-Read’s students were facilitated by the Cook Islands Public Service Commission and were also made possible thanks to the work of former justice secretary and now Pukapuka-Nassau MP, Tingika Elikana.
“I am tremendously grateful to Tingika Elikana for his wisdom and leadership in bringing these Australian students together with the Cook Islands government ministries, both in 2016 and again this year,” said Sobel-Read.
“Similarly, there is a long list of people who deserve considerable credit for making this exciting project happen on the ground, including public service commissioner Russell Thomas, former OPSC chief executive Daphne Ringi, police commissioner Maara Tetava, and the heads of each of the ministries involved.”
As for the students themselves, Sobel-Read said the trip would help them better understand how the law operates within different cultural settings.
“They’ve been doing hard work, but that’s what they signed on for, so that’s good,” he said. “And obviously the island is beautiful and amazing.”
Intern Mark Peters, who spent his time here working in the Revenue Management Division at MFEM, said: “Having the opportunity to work in this environment and play my part in considering the technical aspects of the Cook Islands’ tax system has given me insight into the difficulties faced in maintaining an effective tax system in an increasingly globalised world.”
Peters also praised treasurer Xavier Mitchell, saying that “it is clear that his energy is playing a large role in keeping the division at the top of its game”.
“I am grateful for the openness of the RMD and it has been a pleasure to be able to utilise my legal skills for the benefit of the beautiful Cook Islands and its people.”
Reflecting on their time here, Sobel-Read said the students would all be taking a little part of the Cook Islands with them when they left.
“This group of 10 interns has arrived here in Raro not just as students, but also as Australians,” he said. “And when they leave they will be leaving not just as Australians but also, for the rest of their lives, likewise a little as Cook Islanders too.
“They are still the youth of today but will be the leaders of tomorrow – a tomorrow filled with promise, mutual friendship, and the important understanding that, as the Tongan anthropologist Epeli Hau’ofa has made clear, the sea does not divide us, it connects us.”