The Australian High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Dr Chris Watkins and Dr Penny Witt with dancer Salome Bates, an Aitutakian who learned to dance in Towoomba Queensland. 21012502
This Australia Day, as Australian High Commissioner to Cook Islands Dr Chris Watkins gathers with ‘Cozzies’ for a sausage at Vaiana’s, and to sing the national anthem’s new words, he will be celebrating the mateship between Australia and the Cook Islands.
As many Cook Islanders know, Australia Day is a very relaxed
national holiday. Beach cricket, barbecues and fishing trips will be popping up
all around Australia.
On this day we announce our Australian of the Year – this
year it is Grace Tame, an inspiring sexual abuse survivor and activist. We
recognise all sorts of people who have contributed to our nation.
But it’s also a day of reflection.
The date of modern Australia Day marks the arrival of eleven
ships full of convicts, the ‘First Fleet’, in Sydney Cove.
There is a lively debate about whether we should find
another day to celebrate – a day that recognises that by the time the British
turned up, Australia had already been home to over 65,000 years of continuous
On New Year’s Day, we changed the words to our National
Anthem. No longer do we claim to be ‘young and free’. Now we are ‘one and
Rugby fans might have noticed that the Wallabies, coached
brilliantly by Cook Islander Dave Rennie, have begun to sing the anthem in the
indigenous language used in the Sydney area.
For many years now, our national parliament has opened with
a ‘welcome to country’ ceremony by the traditional owners of the land.
Australians are wondering if the national day needs to catch up.
Perhaps we should be celebrating our constitution, as Cook
The Australian constitution was the first in the world to be
voted into existence by referendum, rather than imposed from elsewhere, and
Australia was the first country in the world to allow women to stand for
Like Cook Islands, there is no revolution marking our
independence. Our independence was won peacefully, at the ballot box.
Or perhaps we could choose a day which celebrates our
A quarter of Australians were born overseas, and another
quarter have parents born overseas.
Roughly 50,000 Cook Islanders are part of that mix.
‘Cozzies’, as we fondly call them, are working in all sorts of industries in
cities and towns across the country.
This is why everywhere Penny and I go, from Atiu to
Rakahanga, we find people who say g’day as well as Kia Orana.
It’s why the national dance competition lights up the
internet in Melbourne, and Cook Islands hymns ring out from Aussie churches
With so many connections, and a history of fighting side by
side in two world wars, it’s no wonder we tend to work together.
When Australia confronted terrible bushfires last year, Cook
Islands police raised money for Australian firefighters. When the World Health
Organization couldn’t get Covid tests to Rarotonga, Australia flew them in.
We are going to have to work even more closely together in
the years to come.
Our shared membership of PACER Plus trade agreement, which
Prime Minister Mark Brown’s government brought into force in December, gives us
an opportunity to restart trade as Covid eases.
On climate change, Australia remains resolutely committed to
the Paris Agreement.
We join with Cook Islands in welcoming the US back into the
As Prime Minister Mark Brown says, it’s a great start to
Australia is on track to meet and beat our 2030 target,
having reduced emissions by almost 17 per cent since 2005 - faster than many
other advanced economies.
Australians are also investing in renewables at record
levels. On a per person basis, Australia is building new wind and solar at ten
times the global average and four times faster than Europe or the US.
As I have written before in this newspaper, Australian
companies have helped install solar power from Mangaia to Manihiki.
So this Australia Day, as I gather with ‘Cozzies’ for a
sausage at Vaiana’s, and sing the national anthem’s new words, I will be
celebrating the mateship between our two countries.
I will be thinking of the strength we gain from the mix of
our proud indigenous culture, and our immigrant communities.
I couldn’t be prouder to be Australia’s first resident High
Commissioner in Cook Islands.
Long may the love and friendship between our peoples