27 Jan 2016

PM told not to dodge Waitangi visit

7:23 pm on 27 January 2016

Former Māori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels is challenging Prime Minister John Key and his delegation to come to Waitangi despite threats of a ban.

John Key is welcomed to Te Tii Marae

Prime Minister John Key is welcomed onto Waitangi's Te Tii Marae in 2015. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Ngāpuhi elder Kingi Taurua has suggested the gates of Te Tii Marae should be closed if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is signed before Waitangi Day.

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels Photo: Parliament

Mr Samuels, who is also one of the iwi's elders, said the marae had traditionally been a place of robust debate and Mr Key was well aware of that.

He himself has been on both sides of Waitangi's fierce debates; he has dished out challenges to the Crown from the Ngāpuhi paepae and took his share of lashing on the visitor's bench when he was a government minister.

"It's an opportunity for meaningful engagement between the leader of the country, the premiere and his ministers," Mr Samuels said.

Talk of a ban was an easy way out and Mr Key knew that, he said.

"I challenge the prime minister because this is an opportunity for the prime minister to duck away from his responsibilities to Ngāpuhi and to Māoridom.

"This really is a way out. It's an avenue that has been opened, and the people who are going to miss out are Ngāpuhi beneficiaries and Ngāpuhi leaders [who] will miss out on the real opportunity to question the prime minister on issues that only the prime minister can answer."

Speaking from Auckland today, Mr Key said he would answer questions on the government's record if he was able to do so.

"Personally, I think it's important to go to the marae and talk about the government's plans and its record.

"So whether it's mixed ownership models, or whether it's mining, or whether it's a number of other initiatives, there have been protests in Waitangi - but in the end, if the invitation is there, I'll be going. If it's not, I'll honour that."

A history of protest

The government pōwhiri at Te Tii Marae has consistently been the place where Māori have challenged the Crown for its failure to uphold the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Then-National Party leader Don Brash has mud thrown at him by a protester at Waitangi's Te Tii Marae in 2004, days after his controversial speech at Orewa.

Don Brash at Waitangi in 2004 Photo: teara.govt.nz

In 1995, Tame Iti spat at the feet of government dignitaries after the then-government announced it would introduce a fiscal envelope on treaty settlements.

In 2004, then-National Party leader Don Brash had mud thrown in his face after advocating a 'one law for everyone' policy in his Orewa speech just days earlier.

An open invitation to the Crown as the partner in the Treaty of Waitangi should always be extended, Mr Samuels said.

"Well, I'm disappointed that the prime minister has been advised that he is not welcome at Te Tii Marae in Ngāpuhi. I don't believe that statement reflects the attitude of Ngāpuhi nui tonu (the greater Ngāpuhi tribe)."

He agreed the TPP - and its implications for the treaty - was shaping up as this year's big issue at Waitangi.

Mr Key said he was happy to talk about the deal but he was not sure he could convince all Māori.

"I'm not saying I'm going to convince everyone up there because some people have made up their mind - but they've made up their mind with misinformation. There is nothing in the TPP that cuts across the treaty."

Mr Samuels said, while the TPP issue was likely to dominate protests, he would be taking his place on the paepae looking for answers from the government on its mishandling of Ngāpuhi's treaty settlement, particularly the iwi's mandate process.

A programme of events has been released by the Te Tii Marae Waitangi Trust, which shows the Prime Minister's pōwhiri is set down for Friday 5 February.

Trust chairperson Ngāti Kawa Taituha said they were committed to welcoming all visitors on the programme but would know the final outcome after a meeting at the marae early next week.

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