PM pays tribute to Bastion Point occupation and Ngāti Whātua leadership during Waitangi Day speech

8:04 pm on 6 February 2017

Prime Minister Bill English has acknowledged Ngāti Whātua and the occupation of Bastion Point at Waitangi Day commemorations in Auckland.

Bill English at Waitangi Day celebrations.

Bill English at Waitangi Day celebrations. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Ngāti Whātua hosted Mr English in Auckland this morning after he abandoned events at Te Tii Marae in Waitangi after being told he could not speak there.

It is the second year in a row the Prime Minister has not attended the traditional Waitangi event hosted by Ngāpuhi.

Mr English said celebrating Waitangi Day in Auckland, outside of Waitangi, provided a unique opportunity.

Mr English attended events at Ngāti Whātua Orakei marae, Okahu Bay, and Hoani Waititi marae in west Auckland today.

He said he wasn't surprised to see the respectfulness, mana, discipline and humour today.

"New Zealanders will want more of this now they've seen it, because it does make people feel proud of what we've achieved, so that's how we want the mood to be on our national day, now where that can happen is up for discussion."

Mr English said people will have to wait to see whether Waitangi Day celebrations were taken on the road.

Mr English and an assembly of guests, including other ministers and opposition MPs, were welcomed onto Auckland's Ōrākei Marae this morning.

He told those gathered inside the marae he was grateful for the invitation, saying Ngāti Whātua, and what happened at the Bastion Point occupation more than 40 years ago, showed New Zealand the way.

A sign says "Bastion Point Maori Land" 6 police officers are standing behind the fence and sign.

Bastion Point Protests Photo: 123RF

"We've had in New Zealand a generosity of spirit which we see shared here today ...but demonstrated in this place in the memories that are so fresh around Bastion Point."

Mr English said government and iwi relations had improved in the last decade and people now realised that success for iwi was success for everyone.

A 506-day protest against a proposed Crown sale of Bastion Point in 1977-78 became symbolic of Māori tribal land loss.

Mr English is joining Ngāti Whātua for festivities at Ōrākei Domain and cultural events at Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland.

Mr English earlier floated the possibility of having the official Waitangi Day celebrations in other parts of the country in future years.

PM absence a missed opportunity - Little

In the absence of Mr English, Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett represented the Crown. She led a group of ministers to the service. Members of the Labour and Green parties were there.

Political leaders were invited to say prayers during the service.

Labour leader Andrew Little said it was a missed opportunity for Mr English, but agreed with Mrs Bennett the service was a special and spiritual occasion.

"It is very special and the thing about what distinguishes New Zealand from the rest of the world, it is our Māori people, it is the treaty. This is the day we get to celebrate that and the Prime Minister should be part of that," he said.

Mr Little did not agree with Mr English's idea of taking Waitangi Day on the road. It should be celebrated on the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, as it had special significance there, he said.

Ms Bennett said it was a shame Mr English was not at Waitangi, but he could reconsider in the future.

But she said the rules put in place for his visit to Te Tii marae were not acceptable to the National Party because he was told he would not be given the right to speak.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett at the dawn service at Waitangi.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett at the dawn service at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly