Wednesday 20 January 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Economy
The Cook Islands government has welcomed Australia’s stepped-up Pacific engagement, announced by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison in Queensland yesterday of a package of cooperation and development initiatives including a new Pacific Infrastructure Financing Facility.
Morrison announced a $2 billion initiative for infrastructure development in Pacific countries and Timor Leste as part of Australia’s intention that Australia be “the first port of call” for its Pacific neighbours.
Deputy prime minister and minister of finance Mark Brown announced the move, incorrectly described as a “donation” in a CINews story yesterday, at a press conference on Wednesday.
Later, in a more formal press release issued by the ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Brown said: “Australia’s stepped up engagement with the Pacific comes on the heels of consistent advocacy by the Pacific, including the Cook Islands over a number of years for elevated engagement with Australia.
The Cook Islands supports Australia’s stepped up engagement in the Pacific, and welcomes this announcement as affirmation of Australia’ commitment to the region’s development agenda and a positive response to various views expressed by its Pacific neighbours in recent years, including those of the Cook Islands.”
The release said the Cook Islands government had placed priority on infrastructure development in the country over past years, with a focus on climate proofing new developments to build resilience against the threats of natural disasters and impacts of climate change.
“Cook Islands Government policy requires analysis of climate related threats when considering public infrastructure developments” says Financial Secretary Garth Henderson.
“$A2 billion committed by Australia towards infrastructure growth in the Pacific region will (give) the Cook Islands and Pacific countries an additional option to support current and future resilience strengthening initiatives, including preparing for possible ODA graduation.”
The commitments under the infrastructure facility will be delivered through a combination of grant and long-term loan funding.
“The Cook Islands is in ongoing discussions with Australia on the impact of ODA graduation,” said Henderson. “And although our current loan capacity is well under our set guidelines, we hope that access to the grant component of the infrastructure facility will not be closed off by our impending ODA graduation.”
Said Brown: “Our development experience over the last 50 years has taught us that successful development outcomes can only be achieved through close consultation and direct engagement between partners throughout the project development and implementation process, and not through implementation plans developed in a vacumn that haven’t been informed by the views of those who are ultimately impacted.
“To that end, we very much look forward to working closely with the Australian Government in the months ahead as they roll out an implementation plan for their stepped up engagement.”
The announcement also follows increased number of high-level visits and engagements between the two governments over the last five years, including a successful high level visit by Australia’s High Commissioner to New Zealand and the Cook Islands, Ewen McDonald to Rarotonga last month.