IT PROBABLY hasn’t crossed your mind, but the Cook Islands is a place definitely worth a visit.
I travelled there from Auckland but there’s also a direct flight from Sydney these days.
The Cooks is an interesting place. Not just because of the laid back island feel and warmth of the people, but for a better model of how Australia might treat Papua New Guinea.
The islands are part of New Zealand but present as a strange hybrid of international and domestic as seen in the way they use the same Kiwi currency – while having their own coins.
Many Cook Islanders, known as Cookies, come to New Zealand to work, visit and live and to Kiwis the Cook Islands is a bit like Bali is to Aussies - a default holiday destination. And deservedly so - it is beautiful and magnificent.
At home, the Cook Islanders they retain title to their own traditional land which is permanently owned by Cookies and cannot be sold. However it can be leased with landowners’ approval, which is a bit similar to PNG and works well.
The Cooks are self-governing, they have their own parliament, but the country is very closely aligned to New Zealand in terms of the legal system and other practices. They receive some funds from New Zealand taxpayers and also have access to medical benefit, where they also travel for major medical procedures.
This level of cooperation, integration and support seems to me far better than the handout mentality embedded in the Australian government’s approach to PNG. I think PNG could be brought far closer to the Australian fold, benefiting both countries.
Whereas Australia seems to treat PNG as a poor distant cousin, New Zealanders think very fondly of the Cook Islands, and the reverse is also true.
Most Cookies are firm All Black supporters even though rugby league is now the dominant form of football. Imagine if Aussies and Papua New Guineans treated each other as first cousins, even siblings, rather than separate, isolated countries.
Anyway, I wish Australia treated PNG as New Zealand treats the Cook Islands. Nothing's perfect, of course, but I think it's a pretty fine model.
Even though we were there only 10 days, leaving the Cook Islands felt like leaving home – I felt like I did when I left PNG for the last time as a kid. We'll be back.
Simon Jackson was born in Port Moresby and lived in Rabaul and Kieta. He also worked in Papua New Guinea as an adult. His wife, Simone, is of Cook Islands extraction.