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

John Key 'not going to gatecrash Lower Marae' on Waitangi Day

Prime Minister John Key says he will not gatecrash Te Tii Marae if he is not wanted after Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua said the Government should be denied entry for signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership two days before Waitangi Day.

Mr Taurua has called a hui for Ngapuhi on February 2 to decide if Mr Key should be welcomed on to the marae this year because of concern about the signing of the TPP agreement on February 4.

Mr Key said the prospect of protests would not deter him from visiting Waitangi this year but he would not go on to Te Tii Marae, also known as the Lower Marae, if he was not wanted.

"I'm intending to go, unless they don't want me to go. In the end I'm not going to gatecrash the Lower Marae if they don't want me to."

Mr Taurua said he was pleased to hear Mr Key would not turn up if he was told not to.

"Good. Because I don't want him there." However, he said opinions were split within Ngapuhi about whether Mr Key should be welcomed and the hui would resolve that. He said it was possible he would relent. "But I can't understand why these people think they need to talk to the Prime Minister after the horse has galloped away."

His main concern was the lack of involvement of Maori in the TPP negotiations.

"The Government comes up to Waitangi every year and says 'we are partners'. But we are not partners. It's like the harbour bridge. We are just a clip-on and they are the main bridge."

Mr Key made a commitment when he was leader of Opposition in 2007 to return to Te Tii every year and said he hoped to do that. "If they want to have a debate about TPP I'm more than happy to do that and I encourage them to listen because we can probably allay a great number of fears they've got. But I'm not going to gatecrash the place. If the governing body of the marae say they don't want me to be there, I won't be there."

He said a series of issues over the years had prompted protests, including asset sales and mining.

He would not discuss his security arrangements. "But the fact there could be a protest at the Lower Marae at Waitangi is not breaking news. Every year I've been there there have been protests. It's just going to be another day at Waitangi on the Lower Marae. The topic will change, the animosity from certain groups of protesters will not."

Politicians are welcomed on to Te Tii marae on February 5 before events move to the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day itself. Te Tii has long been the scene of protests. Over the years since he made his promise, Mr Key has been shoved by protesters, shouted down, and had fish thrown in front of him.

In November last year, advertisements backed by Dr Brash and claiming the Government was surrendering control of fresh water rights to iwi ran in Sunday newspapers.

The ads were taken by NZCPR, a group led by former Act MP Muriel Newman and backed by Dr Brash, and featured a reprise of the "iwi kiwi" billboards used when Dr Brash was leader of National in 2005.

This time, the "kiwi" was written on a glass from which water is pouring into a glass with "iwi" written on it.

Prime Minister John Key dismissed the ads as a stunt and inaccurate, and Environment Minister Nick Smith said the Government had made clear nobody owned the water and control of water plans would remain with local councils.

"I think most New Zealanders recognise that Maori have long- established connections with our rivers and lakes and have no difficulty with them having a say around how it's managed providing the final decisions are made by local councils," Dr Smith said.

- NZ Herald

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