Cook Islands opposition leader outlines goals
The newly-appointed leader of the opposition Cook Islands Democratic Party, William Heather, highlights what his main pursuits will be as party leader.
The newly-appointed leader of the opposition Cook Islands Democratic Party says improving infrastructure in the outer islands, decreasing reliance on imported food and stemming the flow of Cook Islanders out of the country will be his main pursuits as leader.
William Heather was appointed leader by a sizeable majority at the party's conference last week.
The former leader, Wilkie Rasmussen, resigned from the position following a heavy defeat in a by-election on Aitutaki three weeks ago.
Mr Heather told Jamie Tahana his priorities are to campaign on improving infrastructure in the outer islands and improving the country's self-reliance, as well as advancing his party's relationship with the other opposition party, One Cook Islands, ahead of the next election.
WILLIAM HEATHER: Well as leader of the Democratic Party now, I've already started working with some of the outer island constituencies for the likes of Rakahanga. For the support of my family in Rakahanga and also the other constituencies and Matavera. For me I'm going to take the Democratic Party to be in government maybe in the near future, maybe this year, who knows. I gave it to my committee to look at it and they said, good idea if we start from the outer islands. For that, they supported me in giving this to the outer islands.
JAMIE TAHANA: So you are hoping to build up your support within the outer islands through such things as the renewable energy scheme?
WH: That's what this government now is doing actually. The Cook Islands Party government is actually doing it. They have continued to do this for the outer islands.
JT: So if the Cook Islands Party are doing this now too there is really no differentiation between the Democrats and the Cook Islands Party then.
WH: We initiated the thing. We started this. It was our thought, it was our plan. Also in our plans for this election actually we thought we'll start all the infrastructure in the outer islands first. Maybe one island at a time. The idea was if we are going to do a bit at a time, bit there bit there, we are going to run out of our resources but if we combine everything if we go island by island it's a waste of time like a band aid maybe. If we concentrate on one island at a time I believe that if we finish all the infrastructure before we move to another island, through that I believe that we will completely give that island a new overhaul or a new thing for the people to actually stay and live on the island.
JT: Improving significantly the infrastructure of the outer islands...
WH: I believe that's why most of the outer island people are leaving for New Zealand and Australia because there is nothing to do but if we give this to the outer islands, if we spend money, maybe we will stop the depopulation in the outer islands.
JT: So that's your key campaign is it as leader? To improve the infrastructure and to stop the people leaving the outer islands, improve the situation there.
WH: You look at the agriculture. Look at the infrastructure. For the outer islands, even for Rarotonga, there is nothing happening. All the agriculture, all we've got is imported goods from New Zealand. Most of our produce is coming from New Zealand and we are spending millions of dollars every year to purchase fruits and veggies from New Zealand when we can actually grow it ourselves. So I feel this asking the outer islands, especially the likes of Atiu, Ma'uke, Mangaia and Aitutaki we can actually flood the market down here if we concentrate on these islands for the produce. For the veggies and fruit. I believe we can do that. We can actually stop importing. We can save more money to build the infrastructure for the outer islands.
JT: You also speak of in continuing a coalition working with the One Cook Islands Party.
WH: I just met this morning with Teina. He is the leader with the One Cook Islands. We have our meeting. In that meeting we just consolidated with the two parties. I told him our conference has agreed to work together with the OCI which ie One Cook Islands and I believe through our partnership we will bring more benefit to our people than the Cook Islands Party and we are going to work on that as well.
JT: Does that relationship need healing though? Is that relationship in good stead when the One Cook Islands Party in the Vaipae-Tautu by-election wouldn't work with the Democrats and also we had Norman George three weeks ago accusing One Cook Islands of wrecking the Democratic Party?
WH: True, true. I'm pretty sure, you know it as well, it's hard because you'll have different issues, we'll have our own issues as well. It's hard to come together but I believe we have to give this a go and maybe we will achieve what we are after.
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