Saturday 11 March 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Local, National
BAIRD, who departs to Tasmania soon to take up a position at the Foreign Affairs Office, told Cook Islands News it had been an “overwhelming” experience.
“For me, I’ve been so in awe of the people and culture in the Cook Islands, and how they extend it to every element of life,” she said. “One of the recent goals of the Australian Foreign affairs has been about strengthening our First Nation voices, and one of the things I’ve been able to do (in my time here) is learn about how the Cook Islands do it.
“That’s been hugely informative to me, and a really central part of the work we do. I’ve learnt so much about how Cook Islands culture embraces all of who you are. “Cook Islands Māori was not easy for me to learn; I’ll be continuing to work on it when I go home. I’ve enjoyed the bit of learning of I’ve been able to do.” Baird arrived in the Cook Islands in August 2022, around the time of the general election and Te Maeva Nui celebrations.
“It was a really special time. I also got to help organise the visit of (Australian Foreign Minister) Penny Wong, which was a highlight of my career,” she said.
“We work really hard to get everything coordinated, which culminated in (Cook Islands Prime Minister) Mark Brown and Wong signing the ‘Oa tu manava’ or the ‘enduring friendship agreement’. “It’s been a very ambitious period for the Australian Foreign Ministry.” Baird said as the daughter of a Navy officer, it was a privilege for her to witness the patrol boat Te Kukupa II. “The relationship between Australia and the Cook Islands has always been strong, but now more so ever,” Baird said.
“There are tens of thousands of Cook Islanders living in Australia. The Cook Islands is family.” Baird, who has a background in marine science and policy, said she enjoyed swimming on her days off, and immersing herself in the environment.
“It’s so easy to immerse yourself in it, I’ve loved every minute of experiencing your beautiful environment. The Cook Islands is beautiful, naturally speaking, both over and under the land,” she said. Baird said she hoped Australia would continue to solidify their ties with the Cook Islands. “It’s been an enduring partnership,” she said. She said she felt extremely privileged to be in the role “I was in the right place at the right time,” she said.
“I previously worked with (Australian High Commissioner) Chris Watkins, and he was fantastic. I remember reading in the paper about his role in the Cook Islands. Not too long after that I ended up here. So, it’s been happenstance, it’s been my privilege to come here.” Incoming Australian High Commissioner Phoebe Smith arrives later next week.