Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna was the first to speak at the dinner, held on the lawn of the National Auditorium.
He congratulated New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern on breaking the conventional wisdom about what it takes to be a prime minister. He added that her policies were proving to be just as bold and radical as she was as a leader.
He also praised the New Zealand foreign policy “reset” announced by deputy prime minister Winston Peters earlier this week.
“The announcement pledges an increase in assistance to the Pacific, with the focus on climate change, and will support greater independence and long term development in our respective Pacific nations,” Puna said.
“These intentions are relevant, and reflect the substantial changes that have occurred in our Pacific circumstances and our economies.”
Puna also thanked Ardern for the speed of the changes to pension portability rules that were announced at a press conference earlier that day. He said that it was a reflection on the special historical relationship that the countries shared, which had stood the test of time.
“In 2001, we celebrated 100 years of association. And in 2015, we celebrated 50 years of self-government since 1965.
“In more than a century New Zealand has given much support to the Cook Islands, and we have prospered as a nation, and over that same time, Cook Islands has also contributed to the development and growth of New Zealand.”
He referenced the 1950s and ’60s, when many Cook Islanders departed their country to provide labour for the benefit of New Zealand, and “darker times” when one third of all local men fought in World War One.
Puna also spoke about the challenge that the governing Cook Islands party faced with providing the same standard of living as New Zealand, something residents had come to expect.
“But those aspirations have spurred our government to work harder to meet those standards, and thanks to that we have achieved strong economic and social outcomes.”
Ardern echoed Puna’s statements about the Cook Islands, saying that the possible future graduation of the Cook Islands to developed status would be a sign of success.
“But it will never, ever jeopardise the relationship with New Zealand – ever. I make that pledge to you,” she said.
Although the personal relationship between the two leaders only began in December last year, the passion that Peters had for the Cook Islands had shone through, she said.
“He spoke last week about our desire as a new government to put more emphasis on our relationships in the Pacific.
“Because this should not be donor-recipient relationship.”