Prime ministers Henry Puna and Scott Morrison had a stand-up meeting on the fringes of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. 19110862 photo from Cook Islands News

RAROTONGA, 11 NOVEMBER 2019 (COOK ISLANDS GOVT) — Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has accepted the invitation of Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison to visit Australia from 11-15 November as a Guest of the Australian Government.

It is the first official visit by Prime Minister Puna to Australia and follows multiple high level engagements between the two governments in recent years and particularly over the last year.

“The Cook Islands and Australia have a long history of co-operation, shared interests and values at bilateral level and in regional fora and I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Australian Ministers to follow up our prior discussions and how we can together focus a stepped up and expanded programme of bilateral co-operation and regional collaboration that supports our shared and separate development interests,” said Prime Minister Puna.

“At our most recent meeting in the margins of the Pacific Islands Forum held in Tuvalu in August, we committed to holding more regular meetings and I welcome this early opportunity to hold substantive talks with Prime Minister Morrison in Australia”.

The two Governments will discuss economic co-operation including in tourism, trade and investment as well as strengthening cooperation on security, including maritime surveillance and climate change. Fisheries, Education, Sports and Arts and Culture discussions are also intended.

The five-day official visit programme has been developed by Foreign Affairs officials of both governments as directed by both Prime Ministers and feature a blend of bilateral high level and senior officials interactions between the two governments and engagements with the Diplomatic Corp of Canberra, academia, business and private entities and sports and arts fraternity. The engagements will involve visits to Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

The visit will then lead into a two-day programme of engagement with Cook Islands communities’ resident in Australia from 16-17 November, with Prime Minister Puna to attend the Cook Islands Maeva Nui programme to be held in Melbourne. The Maeva Nui celebration will bring to Melbourne various Cook Islands cultural groups from across Australia drawn from the now more than 15,000 population of Cook Islanders resident in Australia.

Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) is leading Cook Islands co-ordination of finalisation of the mission programme, working closely with the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Cook Islands Foreign Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann confirmed the Australia relationship has assumed elevated importance in MFAI’s work over the last 3-4 years and this week’s Australia mission is culmination of those efforts and more significantly, an invaluable opportunity for both Governments to articulate a forward program of co-operation on an elevated expanded platform to be articulated by both Governments.

“This is a significant time in the Cook Islands-Australia relationship where there are multiple areas of mutually beneficial co-operation prospects and greater alignment of values and interests between the two countries than in prior decades. For the Cook Islands, ODA graduation to ‘high-level income status’ in 2020 as determined by the OECD requires re-invigorating, re-calibrating and in some cases innovative efforts in our international engagement endeavours to support our national resilience strengthening and economy diversification efforts whilst upholding our cultural values and conservation stewardship responsibilities. This Australia mission affords a critical opportunity for both governments to better understand each other, articulate and share their development interests and agree areas where both will co-operate, said Herrmann.

This week’s mission to Australia follows various bilateral high level engagements between the two governments in the margins of various regional and multilateral meetings. The most recent interactions include the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown attending the Cairns “No Money for Terror Ministerial Conference on Counter-Terrorism Financing” hosted by Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and prior to that, a Guest of Government visit to the Cook Islands by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne in July this year. (PACNEWS)