6 Feb 2013

Relations between Crown and Maori improving - PM

10:32 pm on 6 February 2013

Prime Minister John Key says relations between the Crown and Maori are improving with the resolution of 59 Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Waitangi Day celebrations were held throughout the country on Wednesday, marking 173 years since the first Maori chiefs signed the Treaty and gave birth to the nation we know today.

Mr Key has been attending commemorations at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, where the document was signed. His appearance on Tuesday was marked not by protests but by a scrap over who should escort him onto Te Tii Marae for a powhiri, or Maori welcome.

Prime Minister John Key, centre, was escorted onto the marae by elders including Titewhai Harawira.

Prime Minister John Key, centre, was escorted onto the marae by elders including Titewhai Harawira. Photo: RNZ

The Prime Minister said there was always a degree of conflict at Waitangi but discussions that followed with iwi leaders were mature, not hostile, and he had expected a more heated debate on the issue of water rights.

The Supreme Court last week reserved its decision on whether the Government's partial sale of power company shares will affect Maori water rights.

John Key told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Wednesday that many iwi had told the Government they were making progress with resolving historic grievances with the .

The Prime Minister believed his presence at Waitangi was beneficial for the relationship between the Crown and Maori and his reception had been a step up from last year.

"It's the easy thing for me to say, look I won't come (and) walk away - but actually, it's an important part of the engagement of dialogue between the Crown and Maori.

"In the end, if they want to do what they did to me last year - shout me down and not give me a chance to speak fair enough - but that just doesn't take us anywhere."

Mr Key said Waitangi Day was quieter than usual and expected it was because it fell on a Wednesday, with fewer people being able to travel north for the occasion.

Labour Party leader David Shearer told the service Waitangi Day celebrated what it meant to be a New Zealander.

He said New Zealanders should celebrate how remarkable their country on Waitangi Day and it should be more than people just having a day off.

Mr Shearer said New Zealanders had a lot to be proud of, with a reasonable standard of living and a great environment.

Past wrongs need to be faced - Turia

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said it was important that New Zealanders face up to the fact the Treaty of Waitangi hadn't been handled well and things had happened under it that should not have.

Mrs Turia said New Zealanders needed to face up to the reality of that on Waitangi Day.

"We need to put those things right and we need to move forward in the spirit of unity and building strong relationships, because that's what the Treaty promised me.

"It promised me a place as part of government, it promised me the right to determine what was in the best interests of tangata whenua, our own people."

Mrs Turia said the Treaty of Waitangi should continue to be held in very high regard.

Harawira wants more debate

Te Tai Tokerau MP and Mana party leader Hone Harawira said he would like to see a forum for more open and challenging debate at Waitangi become a bigger part of the day's celebrations.

Mr Harawira said a request made at Te Tii Marae for discussions to be moved to a bigger venue to enable more robust debate was not accepted.

He told Morning Report that talks about progress on the Treaty should broaden out after the powhiri (welcome) at the marae.

Mr Harawira said it was also important for families to come to Waitangi to be part of the festival atmosphere of the day.

Mr Harawira used his Waitangi Day dawn service speech to raise the issue of poverty and what it would take to overcome it.

He said it was a huge challenge facing the country and would only be met if people had the courage to set aside their individual ambitions and personal aspirations.

Mr Harawira said the Treaty was signed so that everyone in New Zealand would prosper and have peace.