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New Australian diplomat ready to embrace Cook Islands culture

Saturday 25 March 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Features, Weekend


New Australian diplomat ready to embrace Cook Islands culture
Australian High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Phoebe Smith at her office. Photo: Matthew Littlewood/ 23032437

Australia’s new High Commissioner to the Cook Islands is looking forward to embracing the local culture.

Phoebe Smith, who arrived in the country last week, told Cook Islands News it was an honour to represent her country in the Cook Islands.

“It’s been absolutely beautiful…I’ve been struck by the connection to the environment,” Smith said.

“I think I’ve landed in paradise, I’m very lucky.”

Smith said she was looking forward to learn about Cook Islands culture.

“I come with a young family, and their opportunity to grow up here is very special,” she said.

Smith said Australia and the Cook Islands have a “lot of momentum” in the bilateral sphere.

“There’s a huge opportunity to expand our cooperation. This year, with the Cook Islands hosting the Pacific Islands Forum, there are a lot of opportunities.

“I’m really interested to hear from the Cook Islands Government about what their priorities are, and where Australia can help.”

Smith said as countries come out of Covid-19, they have increased the pace of ministerial visits.

“It means we can have those important discussions in person,” she said.

“I think it comes down to people. Australia is an incredibly multicultural diversion country … and that includes an incredibly vibrant and active Cook Islands diaspora.

“There are about 28,000 Australians that call Cook Islands home.”

Smith said the Cook Islands and Australia were “friends in good times and adversity”.

“I think we’ve got a fantastic framework. It’s the result of discussions over a number of years,” she said.

Smith is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She has previously served overseas in Hong Kong as Consul (Political/Economic). In Canberra, she most recently worked in the US and Indo-Pacific Strategy Division.

“When I was in Hong Kong, it was an interesting time politically. It was the beginning of the rise of democracy protests. I learned that you never know what your day is going to look like as a diplomat, and it’s always good to be adaptable,” Smith said.

“But I also learned the value of listening to people. I was fortunate enough to learn Cantonese, so I was able to speak the local language, and that gave me an insight about some of the drivers of the democracy protests which were as much about identity as they were politics.”

Asked about what makes a good High Commissioner, Smith said “be a good listener, be curious about the world, and be able to find areas to work together with your host country that align with your national interests”.

“The Cook Islands Government has been very ambitious. For a country of its size, they play a real critical leadership role in the Pacific,” Smith said.

“I’m still learning, but I hope I can be accessible,” she said.