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Letter: Cook Islands deserve NZ Defence Force inclusion

Monday 10 June 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: Cook Islands deserve NZ Defence Force inclusion

Dear Editor, I am writing to express my disappointment and concern regarding recent developments that may have implications for the Cook Islands and its people.

As someone who has been advocating for the inclusion of Cook Islanders in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), it is disheartening to see Australia now taking steps to recruit New Zealand citizens, which includes the people of the Cook Islands, into its own ranks.

Australia’s move to open its Defence Force to New Zealand comes amid its efforts to address recruitment challenges and bolster its military ranks. According to a recent report, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is exploring various recruitment avenues, including enlisting residents from Pacific nations such as Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands, countries that do not have formal militaries of their own​ (pina.com, 2024)​. This initiative, while beneficial to Australia, raises concerns about why New Zealand isn’t seeking to do the same. The recruitment of Pacific Islanders into the ADF has been framed as a mutually beneficial arrangement, enhancing regional security ties and providing economic benefits through remittances sent back home.

In contrast, the Cook Islands’ inclusion in the NZDF would not only strengthen the existing ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands but also provide Cook Islanders with meaningful opportunities within a defence framework that respects their cultural heritage and regional affiliations. Do a bit of research and you’ll find the indigenous people of New Zealand emigrated from many smaller island nations that heavily included the Cook Islands.

What happened to the Cook Islands being in the “Realm of New Zealand”?

I have sent emails to previous and current New Zealand serving ministers that were, or are now managing the Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Pacific Peoples portfolios. I have equally done this to the Prime Minister’s Office of the Cook Islands and even the New Zealand Defence Force. Despite my ongoing efforts to establish a recruiting office in Rarotonga, this objective has not yet been realised and I’m left frustrated reading the news and frankly, just worn out.

Why bother when Australia has potentially beaten me to it?

Australia’s recruitment strategy underscores the urgency for New Zealand to reconsider and enable the inclusion of Cook Islanders in the NZDF. This is great for Australia but wake up for New Zealand, the “Realm of New Zealand” includes the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. A commitment to its Pacific neighbours that ensures access to opportunities, that are aligned with their national identity, and regional connections is a win for anyone: Right?

New Zealand and the Cook Islands should prioritise the integration of Cook Islanders into the NZDF, before another country opens its doors. It’s essential to provide them with the same opportunities and recognition that Australia is now extending, thereby ensuring that New Zealand remains a leader in supporting and empowering its Pacific partners.

This is enough for now.

Meitaki atupaka.

A frustrated and hopeful Aitutakian

(Name and address supplied)

Replies

Tēnā koe Editor

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this matter. 

Like the writer, we view New Zealand’s relationship with the Cook Islands as special, founded as it is on whakapapa, constitutional, and people to people ties.

Our relationship has been immeasurably strengthened over the years by the Cook Islanders who have served, and continue to serve, as part of the New Zealand Defence Force.  This of course includes all the Cook Islanders who have served and sacrificed as part of our shared war efforts, beginning with World War 1.

It is heartening that so many Cook Islanders continue to wish to serve in the New Zealand Defence Force. We do readily acknowledge, though, that the pathway for joining is not always straightforward for citizens from our Realm partner countries.

With that in mind, the New Zealand Defence Force is currently reviewing the vetting or eligibility process for New Zealand citizens residing in Realm partner countries.

In the meantime, more information on joining the New Zealand Defence Force can be found at: defencecareers.mil.nz/how-do-i-join/am-i-eligible/.

Ngā manaakitanga

New Zealand High Commission

The Australian Government has committed to growing the Australian Defence Force (ADF) by recruiting and retaining a highly specialised and skilled workforce. New Zealanders (and Cook Islanders with New Zealand passports) who are permanent residents in Australia for more than 12 months will be able to join the ADF from July 2024.

Australian High Commission

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