4 Feb 2016

Waitangi trustee's message to Key: 'Be a man'

10:35 pm on 4 February 2016

Prime Minister John Key should be a man and honour the invitation to attend Waitangi celebrations at Te Tii Marae, a marae trustee says.

Mr Key this afternoon announced he would not attend celebrations at Waitangi this year, saying the trustees' refusal to let him speak was effectively a gagging order.

He said he had had no response to a letter he sent to trustees at Te Tii Marae earlier today asking for clarification on his speaking rights.

The Te Tii Marae trustees had told him in a letter if he wanted to make a political speech he would have to give it in the political forum tent near the marae.

He had given them a 4pm deadline but they had not responded so he would not be attending.

But Te Tii trustee Rihari Dargaville told Checkpoint with John Campbell Mr Key should change his mind.

"I think he should be a man, because he came here 10 years ago with a little Maori girl - I'm sure he can't even remember her name any more - and the viewpoint was this, that if he came in he would be honourable to Maori and to our marae," Mr Dargaville said.

"So I think he should still be honourable and come.

"But if he doesn't I'm not going to cry about it and neither is my kaumatua."

Mr Key should fulfil his obligations, especially because the trustees overturned the decision of Ngapuhi to not invite him, Mr Dargaville said.

It was not unusual for political leaders to speak in a speaking tent where thousands could hear them, rather than in the wharenui, he said.

"Back in the fiscal envelope days and when I was the Maori vice-president of the National Party for two years I brought Jenny Shipley here, the honourable Jim Bolger was here.

"Those days were days of angst and political quagmire but at the end of the day they believed to respect the house ... we'd bring them in the house, we'd give them the blessings of Ngapuhi, and then they were guided to the tent and there the discussion took place."

Mr Dargaville also criticised Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell's lack of input in discussions around Mr Key's attendance.

"The worst thing of all is that Te Ururoa Flavell is from here, part of his whakapapa is from here and he should have been here. Two is because he's the coalition partner, the Maori Party.

"They should have been here talking with us so that we could work through a process of how best we can do that. Ensuring that our role is not about being secretive, it's about making sure that the wider interests are there and they can be heard."

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Mr Key answering questions from journalists in Auckland this afternoon. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But Mr Key said respect went both ways; he had respected the protocols of the marae but they were not showing respect to him.

"I've been very keen to go. I gave a commitment that I'd go every year - a pretty basic commitment around what you would expect, the opportunity for the government to turn up to have its particular message of the day and to engage," he said.

"We wanted to do that but I can't go and I won't go to Waitangi with a gagging order on me."

As well, he had heard some senior kaumatua had said they would encourage riots if he spoke about the Trans Pacific Partnership deal (TPP) - signed in Auckland today.

Mr Key said he could not go under those circumstances, as it would put his security people at risk.

Waitangi kaumatua Kingi Taurua said earlier today Mr Key had been prevented from making a political speech at Te Tii Marae for his own safety.

Mr Taurua said so many people were opposed to the TPP Mr Key could end up in a screaming match if he addressed the issue inside the wharenui, Mr Taurua said.

"This is for his safety. It's not for our safety. We're doing it for him. If he comes tomorrow and talks politics, you can imagine what the majority are going to say.

"So there will be a terrible problem. So they have thought about it. Maybe the best idea is not to let him talk politics on the marae, in case those kind of things happen."

Mr Taurua said he was not allowed to make a political speech in the wharenui, so why should Mr Key.

'Mickey Mouse' behaviour

Earlier, Mr Key accused marae trustees of "Mickey Mouse" behaviour.

Mr Key said he had received contradictory messages from Te Tii Marae trustees about whether or not he would be able to speak at the marae. He has said he would not go if he could not speak.

The marae chairman had repeatedly guaranteed him he would be able to speak, but his office received the trustees' letter last night saying he could not.

Mr Key said the behaviour of the marae trustees had been "terribly confusing".

"Well it's a little bit frustrating because it all looks completely Mickey Mouse if you ask me, but the Mickey Mouse-ness of it is all sitting on their side," he said.

"We won't be going unless we can speak in the whare and we are free to say what we like. We're not going to turn up at Waitangi with a bunch of protesters yelling out and saying things which are not right and somehow go on to Te Tii Marae with a gagging order - that's not the way it operates, it's a place for an exchange of dialogue, an exchange of views," Mr Key said.

"I'm absolutely crystal clear about the government's position and what actually TPP means both for the Maori economy and the impact on the treaty - which by the way is non-existent - but I'm not going there with a gagging order."

John Key announcing he won't be attending Waitangi.

John Key announcing he won't be attending Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

GG arrives at Waitangi amid heightened security

Security at Waitangi has been elevated this year but the police had their first official run through earlier today with no incident.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Lady Janine arrived at midday and were escorted on to the marae by elder Titewhai Harawira.

The powhiri for the Governor-General was held up by nearly an hour.

Earlier, a lone motorcyclist broke the police road block and attempted to ride along the foreshore of the marae but was stopped by police and taken away.

About 40 navy seamen came to attention as the Governor-General's motorcade finally arrived and the group were swiftly moved inside the marae.

A small group of protesters stood at the end of the cordon flying Declaration of Independence flags while a wero, or challenge, was laid before Sir Jerry Mateparae inside the marae.

For the first time the road adjacent to the marae has been cordoned off, including access for media.