Maori Party hijacking Waitangi hui, says Peters

By Jon Stokes

The Maori Party has been accused of hijacking a political forum set for this year's Waitangi commemorations.

The forum, on Sunday, will debate the creation of a pan-tribal group to represent Maori on national issues.

The all-day hui is being held next to Te Tii Marae, which will host many of the country's top politicians at the same time.

Te Tii has been the site of intense protests in the past, most recently when National leader Don Brash was pelted with mud at its entrance in 2004.

While some Maori leaders applauded the forum as a positive move, others labelled it a thinly disguised Maori Party campaign vehicle.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira will chair the meeting, and the party president, Whatarangi Winiata, is one of four key speakers.

Dr Winiata has long been an advocate of a separate Maori parliament to work alongside, and with equal powers to, the country's Parliament.

It is understood debate on the creation of a separate Maori "General Assembly" is among the topics.

Mr Harawira used his victory speech after last year's election to call for the creation of a Maori parliament.

New Zealand First MP Winston Peters said Waitangi commemorations were a time to celebrate the foundation of our nation - not for political parties to push agendas.

He said it was clear the Maori Party was intent on trying to "hijack" the event. He was unlikely to attend.

A Ngapuhi kaumatua who did not want to be named said the influence of the Maori Party at commemorations had caused concern among some of the tribe's elders.

He said there was also disappointment that tribal issues, including debate about Ngapuhi's Waitangi Tribunal hearing, set for tomorrow, were included in the weekend's forums.

"This is a national event. We should be discussing national issues, not Ngapuhi issues."

Mr Harawira denied hijacking the forum. He had asked the taumata kaumatua (senior elders) if he could chair the meeting, and they had accepted.

"The Maori Party asked to be involved in the hui. Winston and whoever else had the same opportunity to ask."

He said the forum was open to all, and debate was welcomed.

New Zealand Maori Council chairman Sir Graham Latimer welcomed debate on a national Maori body, but doubted there was potential for it to go beyond talking.

"We have tried it in the past and it failed."

But Sir Graham accepted the council had lost momentum in the last few years, and called for new members to revitalise it, rather than sidelining it.

The council has been credited with securing Maori rights in Crown forests, helping with the 1992 Fisheries settlement, and ensuring Maori interests were recognised in state-owned enterprises.

"I don't think there is room for another national Maori group. We have the council, the Waitangi Fisheries Commission, the Maori Women's Welfare League [and] the Federation of Maori Authorities."

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