That was the claim of prime minister Henry Puna and finance minister Mark Brown as they hosted a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday.
Puna described high-powered Cook Islands delegation’s visit to New Zealand last week as a “calculated move”. The delegation included internal affairs minister Albert Nicholas, health minister Nandi Glassie and six heads of ministries.
“That was deliberate part of our strategy, to give meaning, from our perspective, to the Pacific Reset,” Puna said.
“Up until now we’ve always done business with New Zealand through the foreign affairs ministry, but we thought there’s got to be a better way. And that is to go directly to the ministries and the agencies.
“That was the context of our visit: wanting to push for a direct ministry-to-ministry, agency- to-agency relationship. And that was hugely successful.”
Puna pointed to Glassie meeting with his New Zealand counterpart, David Clark, while he himself was able to sit down with Chris Hipkins in his capacity as the education minister, as just a couple of examples.
During the trip, the delegation took up where they left off in March during New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s visit to the Cook Islands. They discussed a number of issues, from pension portability to Te Mato Vai and the provision of temporary housing in New Zealand for Cook Islands medical patients on referrals.
Whether it was deliberate or not, Puna said they were also privileged to be present when the bill to achieve pension portability was introduced into the New Zealand parliament.
“The surprising thing was that all sides unanimously supported the bill. To me, it says a lot (about) how things have changed the last two to three years. The House also acknowledged me and the delegation.”
The bill will go to a select committee before returning to parliament to be passed.
Te Mato Vai was another topic for discussion, pre-empted by Puna in a speech before the Joint Ministerial Forum meeting at Waitangi, saying that New Zealand and China were integral to the water mains project’s completion.
“We need to ensure that our original intentions of ensuring the success of the project are seen through, and New Zealand shares that. I’m pleased they’ve committed the initial funding for the second stage, and they’ve also signed the grant for the Manatoa cable,” Puna said.
Discussions with New Zealand social development minister Carmel Sepuloni regarding temporary housing for Cook Islands medical patients was another top issue for Puna and the delegation.
The PM said the issue particularly affected the Auckland Cook Islands community, and those who travelled to New Zealand for medical treatment and had no family or relatives to rely on.
“That’s something that we will give absolute priority to in the next couple of weeks, so that we can have a tangible and concrete plan of action in place to address this issue.”
The delegation also met with members of the Cook Islands community.
Brown led a group to Auckland to renew discussions with leaders of the Cook Islands business community.
“We explained to them the new engagement that New Zealand is putting into place with the Pacific countries, but specifically in the Cook Islands,” Brown said.
“We as a country have had three meetings since the (new government) came into power late last year, which shows the depth of our relationship. I think we’ve also set the tone and the framework for how New Zealand wants to engage with Pacific countries.”
The state visit began with a meeting with Cook Islanders in Wellington, which met with such a huge response that some people had to be turned away.
“The room was well overcrowded with 140 people. For us, it signifies that there is a lot of interest in New Zealand on the Pacific Reset,” Puna said.
Brown said meeting with the Wellington and Auckland Cook Islands communities was a great opportunity to discuss issues further and correct any misconceptions.
- Conor Leathley
More news from the press conference in tomorrow’s CINews.