Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Protesters disrupt Waitangi, abuse MPs

Maori activist Tame Iti spoke at Te Tii Marae yesterday. Photo / Natalie Slade
Maori activist Tame Iti spoke at Te Tii Marae yesterday. Photo / Natalie Slade

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says it's the mark of the man that John Key reiterated his commitment to keep coming to Te Tii Marae despite facing abuse alongside Maori ministers.

The Prime Minister's visit yesterday was cut short as a handful of anti-mining protesters led by Wi Popata, who was convicted of assaulting Mr Key in 2009 with his brother John, drowned out speeches.

Politicians such as Education Minister Hekia Parata, Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples and Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell were targeted by Wi Popata on a loudhailer calling them "John Key's niggers" and telling them not to return to Waitangi.

After the powhiri, Mr Key said not to return would be hypocritical when he had criticised his predecessor, Helen Clark, for avoiding Waitangi's lower marae. "I come to pay my respects to the elders of the marae and at the end of the day I'm just not a Prime Minister that cuts and runs."

He said the decision was made to halt his speech and leave simply because he could not be heard.

"I didn't feel in the slightest bit threatened. There was a very heavy police presence. I'm not angry about the situation. I just see it as a wasted opportunity."

Mr Harawira said he "hated to say it" but he admired Mr Key for choosing to be the "bigger man".

"In my view he is to be respected, that in the face of opposition - some of it quite strident - he chooses to come back year after year."

However, he supported the protesters' rights to have their say, and said those in the public eye learned to deal with taunts, he said.

"Well, 30, 40 years ago we were doing the same thing from exactly the same place. It's not like these people are doing anything new ... It's how they feel.

"When all the key statistics of health, education, justice and employment and welfare show that you have actually gone backwards in the last three years, a little name-calling is to be expected."

Dr Sharples said he was hurt at being personally targeted, especially when he had put his "job on the line" over the deletion of a Treaty clause from pending legislation.

He also fired a broadside at Mana Party protesters, who also disrupted the powhiri from outside the marae grounds.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was sitting with Ngapuhi speakers on the marae as surging protesters tried to force their way onto the forecourt.

They were held back, largely by Maori wardens. One, Rawiri Nathan, held three back as police aided other wardens.

A news photographer left with a bloody forehead after his camera was pushed into his face.

Mr Peters and Ngapuhi kaumatua condemned the protesters' actions.

"I thought the way the protesters behaved was a disgrace because this is a national celebration day," the NZ First leader said. "Protest is always legitimate but not when it's carried on at the expense of the freedoms and rights of the rest of the people here."

Through the noise, Ngapuhi speaker John Komene welcomed Mr Key. Afterwards, he told the Herald he was sick that a small number of protesters could disrupt the whole powhiri.

"I was disgusted with these young people doing that. This sort of stuff [protesting on the marae] all finished long ago and now they're starting it up. They're trampling on the kaumatua and the tikanga of the marae."

Mr Komene said police told him they would arrest the protesters. "I said, 'No, please don't.' But next time I want them to take the loudspeaker off [them] to stop that screaming."

The country's top Maori police officer, Superintendent Wally Houmaha, called the protest "disgraceful" and the "height of rudeness", but said no one would face charges.

Ngapuhi leaders needed to do something about the Popata brothers, he said, because on a private marae, police could step in only if personal safety was threatened.

- NZ Herald

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