‘Our reliance on New Zealand’

Saturday 16 January 2021 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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‘Our reliance on New Zealand’
The departure entry at Rarotonga International Airport is expected to get busy in the coming weeks following the announcement of quarantine free travel into New Zealand from Wednesday, January 20. 21011410

It is a watershed moment for both New Zealand and the Cook Islands that one-way quarantine free travel will begin, writes Thomas Wynne.

The borders that slammed shut on March 25 sent the Cook Islands and New Zealand economy, and especially those based around tourism, into a downward spiral. Sadly, some of these sectors have not and will not recover and for the Cook Islands, or more specifically Rarotonga and Aitutaki, the news of quarantine free travel into NZ is a welcome sign for what could possibly be next.

We thank the New Zealand and Cook Islands prime ministers Jacinda Ardern and Mark Brown, for the work they and their officials have done in the constant stream of diplomatic, health and border conversations that have continued since March 25, 2020 and have resulted in the announcement on Thursday of quarantine free travel for Cook Islanders to New Zealand.

Having been home now for close to four weeks, and with the impending, and now quarantine free travel home, I will be straight to work Tuesday morning, ready for another year of working for a government that has the closest ties to us both at the diplomatic and officials level, as well as constitutionally. These ties are reflected in our access to New Zealand’s health sector, education and of course work and the New Zealand passport.

Covid-19 has had the global effect of tearing off and exposing inequities in every country and where we had hidden maybe or simply not looked at deficits in our own lived experiences, be the poverty, education, access to health care or simply the quality of life for our communities and the Cook Islands, is not free from what Covid-19 has exposed. What was clear at the lockdown in March last year was that at any given time, up to 400 people are in New Zealand, travelling for a number of reasons; be they health check-ups, visiting families, purchasing goods for home, medical supplies or for education.

Our reliance on New Zealand was laid bare when the borders slammed closed, sealing 400 people in New Zealand, and our countries difficulties in meeting their needs while trapped in a lockdown.

Our reliance on New Zealand was clear to me with numbers of medical referrals who struggled to find support even after the lockdown had lifted and that this was not an unusual experience for those referred to New Zealand because our hospitals capabilities can simply not meet their needs. Students pleaded on Facebook for support as they too felt alone during the lockdown.

As an essential worker during this time and having supported a number of our people in New Zealand through the work of our High Commission and Consulate in New Zealand, it became clear to me where the gaps were and where we were not fulfilling our promise as a country to our people that ‘no one in the tribe gets left behind’.

The Cook Islands government in the end came to the aid of many but the disparities exposed remain and for me it has never been so clear our dependence on New Zealand and left asking myself – where does our sovereignty and nationhood fit, with our relationship with New Zealand and the services they continue to provide, where we as a country simply cannot.

It was a bitter pill for me to swallow but I saw it with my own two eyes and felt the desperation of so many of our people in New Zealand, though just one left alone is simply not good enough.

I am and will always be a staunch nationalist, where I believe in a Cook Islands for Cook Islands and led and driven by Cook Islanders. Nonetheless Covid-19 exposed gaps that I am still coming to terms with and maybe a lack of capacity and skill that we as a country have not yet come to terms with in this post Covid-19, modern, connected, digital world that exposes at the touch of a key board more than a library of books could have done for the generation behind us.