Joe Williams, QSO, is a Cook Islands politician who served briefly as Prime Minister of the Cook Islands in 1999. Williams trained as a doctor, and has principally resided in Auckland, New Zealand.
Williams gained election to the Cook Islands parliament as an "overseas MP", representing Cook Islanders living abroad (mostly in New Zealand). Although a member of the Cook Islands Party, he opposed the premiership (1989 to 1999) of Geoffrey Henry, the party's leader from 1979 to 2006. Many members of the Cook Islands Party opposed its coalition agreement with the New Alliance Party, and after several defections, Henry lost control to the dissidents and resigned. In July 1999, Williams narrowly won endorsement as the new Prime Minister. This prompted considerable anger in some quarters, primarily because Williams mostly lived outside the islands. In October 1999 the New Alliance Party left the governing coalition, depriving the government of its majority. Williams attempted to form a new government, but the following month he lost a vote of no-confidence to the opposition Democratic Alliance Party and the New Alliance Party. Terepai Maoate became the new Prime Minister.
In 2002, Williams became involved in a controversy regarding a proposed medical trial in the Cook Islands. The trial, which involved injecting pig cells into humans as a means of fighting diabetes, could not legally take place in New Zealand, and therefore moved to the Cook Islands, where less strict regulations applied. Williams, a strong supporter of the proposal, believed that it would bring benefits to the Cook Islands' economy, but the scheme aroused much controversy. Later, the Cook Islands (unsuccessfully) nominated Williams to head the World Health Organization.
Williams later attempted to start a political career in the New Zealand context, standing as a candidate for the New Zealand First party at 15th place in the party list and contesting the Maungakiekie electorate seat in the 2005 parliamentary elections. He did not succeed in becoming an MP through either poll.