Ewen McDonald, together with the High Commission’s First Secretary Kirsty Michel, hosted business people, politicians, public servants and members of the Australian community living on Rarotonga.
McDonald said there were many honoured guests, including representatives of the Cook Islands government, among them acting prime minister Mark Brown, deputy opposition leader Tama Tuavera and associate minister for agriculture, Patrick Arioka.
He also welcomed representatives of the House of Ariki, New Zealand High Commissioner Peter Marshall and his wife Pamela and senior government officials, as well as other members of the diplomatic, business, and NGO communities.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight is a celebration of the Australia-Cook Islands relationship and it strikes me that almost everyone in this room has a connection of some kind to Australia, or the Australian High Commission in Wellington.
“Many of you have family links to some of the 22,000 people living in Australia who formally identify as Cook Islander.
“Others of you, including prime minister Henry Puna himself, are past alumni of Australian universities, or have connections to Australian education programmes such as the Australia Awards, or New Colombo Plan.
“Others here are key contacts in government and diplomacy, and have worked with Australia to realise policy or development goals in the Cook Islands and wider region.
“As a collective, this group gathered here this evening demonstrates the breadth, depth and importance of our relationship – both bilateral and regional, and also on the world stage. And the fact that this relationship is underpinned by our people-to-people links.
“I’m here this week with my colleague Kirsty Michel, one of whose key responsibilities is to focus on our Cook Islands relationship.”
McDonald said: “Over the past three days, we’ve had the opportunity to meet with senior ministers in the Cook Islands government, including acting prime minister Brown. These discussions have reinforced in our mind the close and open relationship our two countries enjoy.
“We’ve discussed some key issues around our future partnership, and how we can work collectively in the region on fisheries, security, economic resilience.
“We’ve also talked about how Australia can support Cook Islands and the region on climate change, which I know is of fundamental importance.
“It was good this week to see the patrol boat (Te Kukupa) that – after almost 30 years, continues to support Cook Islands to patrol its significant Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We are looking forward to delivery of a new patrol boat in 2022 and the commencement of associated air surveillance support across the region.”
The High Commissioner said he had been able to chat to some of the “small, but vibrant Australian community in Rarotonga”, and added: “You are contributing to the fabric of Cook Islands’ society in so many ways, including in commerce and business.”
He said he was pleased that he and Michel had been given the opportunity to hear from the community, “and to let you know how much we value the work between Cook Islands and Australia”.
He also thanked “Ben Bergman and his team for the fantastic venue and arrangements tonight, and reiterate my thanks to the government of Cook Islands and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration for hosting my visit this week.”