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The Cook Islands comprises 15 small islands, spread over 2.2 million square kilometres, north-east of New Zealand and between American Samoa and French Polynesia. The resident population is about 12,000. Rarotonga, the capital, is the most populous island.
Cook Islands is a parliamentary democracy, with Queen Elizabeth II the Head of State, represented by the Governor-General HE Sir Fredrick Goodwin. Cook Islands is a self-governing state 'in free association’ with New Zealand, an arrangement dating from August 1965. Under the terms of the free association, Cook Islanders hold New Zealand citizenship and enjoy the right of free access to New Zealand. The Cook Islands retains close links with New Zealand, where it maintains its only diplomatic office overseas.
Cook Islands has a unicameral parliament with 24 elected members and a parliamentary term of 4 years. There is also a 15-member House of Ariki (Chiefs), established in 1966, composed of six Ariki from Rarotonga and nine from the outer islands. The Ariki advise the Government on land use and customary issues. There is full adult suffrage and registration is compulsory, although voting is not. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister, currently Henry Puna.
Recent political developments
Recent political developments
Elections were last held in November 2010 and the opposition Cook Islands Party (CIP) won a clear majority, securing 16 of the 24 district seats. The Democratic Party (DP) won the remaining eight seats
Following the election, Prime Minister Puna appointed a new Cabinet, comprising himself and five others. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration is Tom Marsters. The Minister for Economic Development with responsibility for trade issues is Mark Brown.
Cook Islands is a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum and is a member of a number of other regional and international organisations.
The Cook Islands will host the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in 2012.
Although its GDP is high compared to many other Pacific Island countries, the Cook Islands economy faces many of the development challenges common to other small island states. These include relatively limited natural resources, remoteness from major trade and industrial centres, and a diminishing labour force. Despite these constraints, Cook Islands has developed a small but successful tourism industry and the Government has accorded high priority to its further development. Developing the marine resources within Cook Islands' large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), including black pearl farming in the Northern Group is another Government priority
The Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand is accredited to the Cook Islands.
Australia's relationship with the Cook Islands is based mainly on shared membership of regional organisations, a modest aid program, and the Cook Islands' participation in the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.
In 1989, Australia gifted a patrol boat, the CIPPB Te Kukupa, to the Cook Islands. Te Kukupa provides the Cook Islands Police Maritime Division with a significant maritime security and surveillance presence within its large Exclusive Economic Zone. In 2006, Australia completed a Life Extension Program refit of Te Kukupa to ensure the vessel's service life reaches 2021. Through the Defence Cooperation Program, Australia provides in-country and Australia-based training in technical and professional skills, operational planning support, funding support for patrolling and ongoing maintenance. As well as maritime surveillance, Te Kukupa is also able to provide a search and rescue capability.
In 2011-12 Australia’s total Official Development Assistance (ODA) will provide $4.4 million in aid to the Cook Islands. Australian assistance is delivered by the New Zealand aid program, through a delegated cooperation program, and through other development assistance programs predominately at the regional level. Assistance will target economic growth, infrastructure, governance and climate change adaptation activities. The harmonised program aims to improve development outcomes and reduce the aid management and administrative burden on the Cook Islands Government. Further information is on the AusAID website (http://www.ausaid.gov.au/) .
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles visited Cook Islands on 7-8 March 2011 and met senior political figures, including Prime Minister Puna and members of his Cabinet.
The Cook Islands contributes one person to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
Regular commercial flights operate between Sydney and Rarotonga.
Australian exports to Cook Islands in 2010-11 totalled $6.95 million (principally tobacco, special transactions and commodities and alcoholic beverages). Australian imports from Cook Islands in the same period totalled $197,000.
Australians travelling to Cook Islands are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice website (http://smartraveller.gov.au/).
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