FIFTY years of self-government and free association with New Zealand has raised more questions than answers as Cook Islanders contemplate the relevance of that relationship today, as well as their place in the world and an uncertain future. Cook Islanders put aside Westminster pomp and ceremony for the country’s Constitutional celebrations which coincided with the Te Maeva Nui cultural festival in August. The departure from constitutional formality in favour of a traditional cultural celebrations reflected the occasion as the country took stock of half a century of social and political change.
The Cook Islands have matured since 1965 and the relationship has largely been favourable. Cook Islanders have benefited from New Zealand citizenship while taking pride in their sovereignty. But at what price? Free association gave New Zealand the power to act on the Cook Islands’ behalf in foreign policy and defence matters, a job New Zealand prime minister John Key says his country have done well and would continue to “ensure the Cook Islands has its voice heard internationally.” But his Cook Islands counterpart, Henry Puna wants his country to take back that responsibility.
He has been actively campaigning for his country to have a seat on the United Nations. A vote at the UN would give the Cook Islands more political leverage with foreign powers and open the doors to overseas aid and cash for economic development. The Cook Islands made a breakthrough in their foreign agenda this year by becoming a member of the UN’s International Labour Organisation; a move which would benefit local workers.
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