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PM calls for defence and security arrangement with Australia and NZ

Friday 2 February 2024 | Written by Candice Luke | Published in Australia, Economy, Local, National, New Zealand, Regional

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PM calls for defence and security arrangement with Australia and NZ
Prime Minister Mark Brown and Australian High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Phoebe Smith celebrate the 30th year anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. AHC/24020125

Prime Minister Mark Brown has proposed a trilateral defence and security co-operation arrangement between the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and Australia.

This month marks the 30th year anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Cook Islands. The two governments marked the occasion with a reception hosted by the Australian High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Phoebe Smith at her residence in Nikao last week. 

The gathering served to remind the partnership successes and lessons of the past and opportunities for co-operation into the future.

PM Brown focused his remarks on the “Oa Tumanava” Partnership signed by the two governments in 2022. “Oa Tumanava” details five pillars for future cooperation between the Cook Islands and Australia.

He proposed a trilateral defence and security co-operation arrangement between the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and Australia.

In addition to the Cook Islands defence and security arrangements with New Zealand, Brown said: “Such a trilateral arrangement would in our view encapsulate the existing multi-decade areas of security cooperation with Australia including through the Defence Co-operation Program, the Pacific Maritime Security Program, and regional mechanisms such as the Pacific Transnational Crime Network.”

Opposition Leader Tina Browne said: “If Prime Minister Brown has successfully negotiated improved surveillance arrangements with Australia and New Zealand to tackle illegal fishing and prevent the transportation of illegal drugs through Cook Islands’ waters, then congratulations to him on this accomplishment.”

“However, if he has simply maintained the current status quo, which is quite basic, then there is little cause for celebration as no significant progress or achievement has been made.”

Australian High Commissioner Smith acknowledged PM Brown’s proposal, saying Australia is open to formalising security partnerships within the Pacific “where Pacific island countries see value in such arrangements”.

“Australia’s security agreements with Pacific island countries are founded on longstanding, respectful and reciprocal security partnerships,” she told Cook Islands News.

“Australia welcomes instruments that outline our shared commitments as partners, the scope of existing and new areas of security cooperation and arrangements for deployments and other joint security activities, providing an implementation mechanism for deeper levels of security cooperation.”
Smith said Australia and New Zealand reaffirmed their commitment to work alongside Pacific countries as part of the Pacific, in support of their shared interests and aspirations, at the inaugural Australia-New Zealand Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations (ANZMIN 2+2) held in Melbourne on February 1.

PM Brown also sought sporting opportunities for Cook Islanders and access to Australian grant funding facilities, equal to that of other Pacific nations. He also asked for progress in Australian superannuation transfer arrangements.

Brown announced the immigration policy change approved by the Cook Islands Cabinet last week to enable Australian passport holders a 90-day visitor visa and permit on arrival.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, the majority of the 30,000 Cook Islanders living in Australia have settled in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, and Western Australia. They have assimilated into Australian communities adding cultural and social richness, contributing to Australia’s economy through their work in primary industries, construction, manufacturing, tourism, trade, sports, education, health, government and beyond.

At the reception, High Commissioner Smith launched the Stories of Friendship Initiative, to celebrate many of the individuals who have contributed to the bonds between the Cook Islands and Australia.

MFIA will continue to lead the Cook Islands coordination of engagement with the government of Australia. “This 30th year anniversary will likely include a number of high-level engagements as the two governments endeavour bring to further fruition their shared aspirations detailed in ‘Oa Tumanava’.”