PM at Waitangi: A step ahead, but untested

7:23 am on 24 January 2018

Analysis - There is something to be said for the term "kanohi kitea", meaning "a person who is present and seen".

The Treaty of Waitangi. He Tohu, a new permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand. Treaty of Waitangi, Declaration of Independence and Women's Suffrage Petition.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The late Parekura Horomia was known as kanohi kitea, because he turned up to every birthday and tangi in his Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate, which stretches across the entire East Coast.

Parekura Horomia

Parekura Horomia was Minister of Māori Affairs between 2000 and 2008. Photo: Wikimedia commons

After this year's Waitangi commemorations, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will have spent nearly a week on the ground, a good start if she ever wants kanohi kitea to refer to her.

But politics is a long game.

The Treaty of Waitangi. He Tohu, a new permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand. Treaty of Waitangi, Declaration of Independence and Women's Suffrage Petition.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Many new Prime Ministers skip along to Waitangi with a kete full of fresh promises and having had little time to have them tested.

Previous governments Waitangi experiences have been wonderful at times, not so flash at others. Each has had an Achilles heel - whether a Seabed and Foreshore law or a Fiscal Envelope - it is the nature of the game.

The test for Ms Ardern will be whether she keeps returning for a five-day period year on year.

Her message is, as she says, deliberate: calling for open transparent relations and iwi and Crown partnerships. However, she's literally paraphrasing what Māori protesters have been chanting at Waitangi for decades.

ardern davis

Jacinda Ardern with deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis. Photo: RNZ/Rebekah Parsons-King

Whether it's that she has a good public relations team behind her, or the influence of the Māori MPs and Ministers surrounding her, her message is being well received by many in the North.

Even the matriarch of Māori protest, Titewhai Harawira, seems relaxed about her visit.

Titewhai Harawira.

Titewhai Harawira with Helen Clark, former Governor-General Jerry Mateparae and Sir John Key. Photo: RNZ

Former Prime Minister Bill English isn't buying it however, and says the Labour Party is historically prone to controlling Māori institutions and many Māori would agree with that.

Mr English says the relationship his government had with Māori was "robust" and talked up "their rangatiratanga" and "independence".

But he is referring to a relationship between his government and the Iwi Leader Group: a group of Māori charged with managing iwi trusts and businesses worth billions of dollars, not Māori struggling at the bottom of the barrel.

The Prime Minister could make history this year if she takes the opportunity to speak on the marae. It's never a given, but the setting this year is different.

The ceremony - which will be held at the top marae Te Whare Runanga - will be open to everyone, something Labour Minister Peeni Henare says is vital for transparency.

This government also isn't turning up cold, having been part of the planning process for a while, and it has created a new ministry dedicated to Crown and Māori relations.

So far, that relationship - so close to Waitangi Day - is looking pretty positive.

Whether or not Ms Ardern will be remembered as kanohi kitea, she has a better chance than Mr English, who last year didn't show up.

Prime Minister Bill English is welcomed onto Hoani Waititi Marae during Waitangi Day celebrations.

Bill English at Orākei Marae in Auckland on Waitangi Day last year. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

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