Celebrating bond between Australia and Cook Islands

Tuesday 26 January 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Celebrating bond between Australia and Cook Islands
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 culture.

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 free’.

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 Islands does.

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 election.

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 multiculturalism.

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 across Australia.

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 fold.

As Prime Minister Mark Brown says, it’s a great start to Biden’s Presidency.

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 continue.