Cook Islands party marks 50 years

  • 05/08/2015
Cook Islands party marks 50 years

By Sarah Robson

The hips were shaking, the sun was shining and the island shirts were out in force as the Cook Islands switched to party mode to celebrate 50 years of self-government in free association in New Zealand.

A few thousand people turned out in Rarotonga on Tuesday (local time) to mark the constitutional milestone with a beachfront party.

There was plenty of food, drumming, dancing, flowers and music, and tourists and dignitaries rubbed shoulders with the locals for the occasion.

Both the Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key addressed the crowd as part of the official Constitution Day ceremony.

"Today we mark the moment 50 years ago when New Zealand and the Cook Islands entered into a new constitutional relationship, with the support of the international community," Mr Key said.

"Although that form of arrangement was an option presented by the United Nations, there was no description of what it really meant, and no precedent for how it might work. It was up to us to forge our own path.

"And today we come together to celebrate the success of that agreement and the richness of the relationship between the Cook Islands and New Zealand."

But that's not to say the Cook Islands don't still face challenges.

New Zealand will be pouring in at least another $42 million of aid over the next three years, with much of that money to be spent on infrastructure, solar power, education and health projects.

Back in the 1960s, New Zealand was the Cook Islands' main source of aid.

But since then the international community has come to the party, with the European Union and, more notably, China investing in infrastructure projects.

Both Mr Puna and Mr Key have said they remain committed to the world-first constitutional arrangement that exists between their two countries.

Self-government in free association isn't the same as full independence.

Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens, have New Zealand passports and use New Zealand currency.

But the Cook Islands government is free to make its own laws and conduct its own affairs.