Cook Islands Prime Minister, the Hon. Mark Brown, has spoken of the need for the Cook Islands' voice to be heard at the highest levels of inter-government global gatherings, and to be able to participate autonomously in relevant multilateral development entities such as the IMF.
The Prime Minister made the remarks on 8 June 2023, at an evening reception hosted by New Zealand High Commissioner, Her Excellency, Tui Dewes, in honour of the visit of New Zealand's Governor General, Dame Cindy Kiro, to the Cook Islands.
Reflecting on his representation of the Cook Islands and Pacific interests, including New Zealand, at the May Group of Seven (G7) meeting hosted by Japan's Prime Minister, the Hon. Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima, Prime Minister Brown in his remarks said: "This year's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders meeting, which we will host under my chairmanship, has the theme "Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, and Prosper". It is time our voice is heard at international forums that we need to be members of.
"This year, we are committed to securing Cook Islands membership of the IMF, which is increasingly being used as a vehicle for the delivery of finance products that target economic recovery post-COVID and increasingly climate action support. We cannot expect New Zealand to speak for us in these forums, we need our own voice.
"The same with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). We cannot continue to sit behind New Zealand in these forums," said Prime Minister Brown.
"Samoa will host CHOGM in 2024 – we need our place at the table. In the same way we fly our Cook Islands flag and run our own races at the Commonwealth Games – the same courtesy needs to be extended for our seat at the CHOGM table so that we may speak with our own voice, for our people of the Cook Islands."
Prime Minister Brown's remarks followed a fruitful exchange with Dame Cindy Kiro earlier that day during bilateral discussions held at the Office of the Prime Minister, where the two discussed COVID response and recovery, shared and separate workforce retention and recruitment challenges, as well as forward debt servicing obligations, cultural and people-to-people ties, and the Cook Islands diaspora contribution to Aotearoa, New Zealand development.
The reception honouring the visit of Dame Cindy Kiro coupled with the New Zealand High Commission's launch of Matariki Korikori – a cluster of events the High Commission is hosting in the Cook Islands over an eight-week period which includes a film festival, public lecture, and concert.
During his remarks, Prime Minister Brown also paid tribute to Matariki, an auspicious day in the New Zealand calendar and an acknowledgement of shared whakapapa (genealogical) links between Maori of Aotearoa, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, acknowledging the historical voyaging and wayfaring connections and shared culture as Maori people.
Prime Minister Brown referenced the United Nations Day for Oceans, also celebrated on 8 June, with the 2023 theme of "Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing" as representative of the Cook Islands and New Zealand relationship.
"As a country that is 99.99% ocean, we can certainly identify with that theme. So, it has been and shall be with our relationship with New Zealand," said Prime Minister Brown. "The tides will continue to change, and the stronger the ties between our two countries as articulated in our foundational arrangements stretching back to 1901 and most recently in our bilateral partnership arrangement Te Waka Houroa/Vaka Purua, the stronger and more resilient our partnership will be."
Prime Minister Brown's engagement with Dame Cindy Kiro follows engagements with New Zealand Prime Minister, the Hon. Chris Hipkins in Papua New Guinea in May in the margins of the India-Pacific and United States-Pacific Summits, and with New Zealand Foreign Minister, the Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, in the margins of the Korea-Pacific Islands Summit held in Seoul, South Korea.