Claire Trevett

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

Key: Waitangi tradition to continue

Prime Minister John Key speaks on Te Tii Marae. He says he has no plans for the tradition of politicians visiting Waitangi to change, after protests disrupted celebrations this year. Photo / Natalie Slade
Prime Minister John Key speaks on Te Tii Marae. He says he has no plans for the tradition of politicians visiting Waitangi to change, after protests disrupted celebrations this year. Photo / Natalie Slade

Prime Minister John Key says the tradition of politicians going to Te Tii Marae should continue, despite calls for the annual visit to be scrapped after he was shouted off the marae by protestors yesterday.

A spokesman for the Lower Marae had suggested there be no powhiri for politicians in the future if protestors could not be controlled.

Mr Key said that would be disappointing because it was a good opportunity for the Government to front up to Maori.

"My preference would be to be able to come onto the Lower Marae the day before Waitangi Day and give the Government's account of events and engage in debate.

"The whole issue with the Treaty is that it has an ongoing place in our society and it's important for both the Crown and Maori to have an opportunity to debate those issues.

"We won't always agree, but that is a forum where we can do that."

He said it was unfortunate that the "silly actions" of a few protestors yesterday effectively hijacked his opportunity for the Government to give its response on issues of the day, and that was as disrespectful to the kaumatua of Te Tii Marae as it was to the Government.

Speaking after this morning's dawn service, Mr Key said Waitangi Day itself was usually a peaceful family day and a way to reflect upon the fact that New Zealand was a country that came together by signing a Treaty on a peaceful day.

"That's not to not remember the disputes and wars that came after that, but we were unusual in that we were a country that was formed in that way."

He said New Zealand was now a multicultural society that was built on a bicultural foundation.

Mr Key also responded to the Maori Party's encouragement of legal action to try to halt state asset sales by saying the Government would continue to consult over whether or not a Treaty clause should be included in legislation setting up the mixed ownership model, and what shape any clause should have.

"But we believe it's in New Zealand's best interests to take this path and we think the opportunities are greater as a result of it."

He said the Maori Party were free to be part of the Opposition on the issue, as agreed in their confidence and supply agreement, but he believed it was the best course for New Zealand.

He said a Maori Council attempt to halt the asset sales, at least until water rights and a Treaty clause were worked out, was unlikely to affect the proposed timeframe. The Maori Council is expected to file two claims tomorrow on the issue.

Mr Key said the Government was not bound by the Waitangi Tribunal.

He said Finance Minister Bill English had met with Sir Graham Latimer - the chair of the Maori Council - yesterday.

"We are the Government and we will operate within the law, so if the courts slow us down, they will slow us down."

He said consultation with Maori was genuine by the Government, despite scepticism from the Iwi Leaders' group which had told Mr Key and Mr English that it was strongly opposed to suggestions section nine of the State Owned Enterprises Act might not apply under the mixed ownership model companies in the same way.

- NZ Herald

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