'Waitangi awards' divide

By Lindy Laird

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The Labour Party and the National Party are at loggerheads over Labour leader David Shearer's call for New Zealand honours to be awarded on Waitangi Day rather than at New Year.

Mr Shearer said at Waitangi that while there was always going to be tension during the Waitangi Day commemorations he would like to see the focus change to a celebration of the achievements of New Zealanders.

Mr Shearer said he wanted a new set of Waitangi honours to replace the New Year Honours. The categories could include New Zealander, Young New Zealander of the Year and Community of the Year.

But Prime Minister John Key said honours were to recognise the achievements of individuals and that moving the awards to Waitangi Day would move the focus away from those people to grievances.

"And I don't think that honours those people we are trying, as fellow New Zealanders, to honour for what they have achieved."

Mr Shearer said that while most of the population did not attend Waitangi Day commemorations, the disruptions and concerns that were a feature of the day's coverage "took away the joy New Zealanders should feel in the day".

"I'd like to see people say 'Happy Waitangi Day' to each other rather than just shuffling off to their barbecues."

Mr Shearer said deciding what the replacement honours should be was a job for an independent forum or panel.

The Labour Party caucus was escorted on to Te Tii Marae on Tuesday by Nellie Rata, widow of former Labour MP Matiu Rata who died in a car accident in 1997.

Northland Labour list MP Shane Jones said the party received a warm welcome on to the marae. "Waitangi Day [commemorations] have always got a bit of theatre, but without a doubt, this year Waitangi will be remembered for 'kuiagate'," he said, referring to the stoush over who should escort Mr Key on to the marae.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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