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

Potential protests: 'There's nothing much we can do about it', says Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua

Kingi Taurua, who had opposed Key attending, said the marae was expecting a lot of protesters to travel up from Auckland after the signing of the TPP. Northern Advocate Photograph by John Stone
Kingi Taurua, who had opposed Key attending, said the marae was expecting a lot of protesters to travel up from Auckland after the signing of the TPP. Northern Advocate Photograph by John Stone

Te Tii Marae elders say there is a risk of deliberate attempts by protesters to block the Prime Minister John Key going on to the marae on Friday and there was little they could do to stop it.

Trustee Emma Gibbs also warned Mr Key not to inflame the protesters with a highly political speech or "really it is coercing them into more blimmin' riot". The Prime Minister said today he would travel to Te Tii after being invited onto the marae with the usual speaking rights. However, he warned that he would not go on if the expected anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) protests were so large he could not physically get to the marae gates or if police advised they were not confident they could control the situation.

He said it was not a warning to the protesters, but he was worried about endangering others with him. He was not concerned about his own physical safety because he had a high level of protection from police and his Diplomatic Protection Squad bodyguard.

However, he was concerned about other MPs, ministers and staff getting caught in the throng.

"There are limitations to the practical capacity of police to deal with the situation safely so I can't put a whole lot of other people in the situation where they could be endangered. It's not fair on them and it's a responsibility I don't want to take."

Ms Gibbs said Mr Key should steer clear of an overly political address "for his own protection" because it risked inciting the protesters. She said the powhiri should be about the home people and the visitor, not the protesters outside the gates.

She was more critical of the protesters than Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua, saying many were using the goodness of the marae as a platform to get Mr Key to respond.

"It would be in his favour if he turned up and said nothing," she said. "That's holding more weight than responding to a bunch of catatonic, deranged people that have decided to fight about something they're really had three or four years to deal with."

Mr Taurua, who had opposed Mr Key attending, said the marae was expecting a lot of protesters to travel up from Auckland after the signing of the TPP. There was anger Mr Key had been invited on after a majority vote not to do so.

"If John Key is coming on I imagine there will be an attempt to stop him doing that," Mr Taurua said. "We can't do anything. If there's hundreds and hundreds there's nothing much we can do about it."

He believed the protesters should be there and as in the past they would be told to stay outside the marae. The marae was powerless to deal with anything that took place outside its gates so it would be for police to deal with.

The marae had spoken to police about security and would have the usual Maori wardens and plain clothes police on the marae, as well as uniformed police outside. Ms Gibbs said the marae had its own security on top of the police, including the Maori wardens as well as local volunteers. "I try not to interfere, they are there in the public interest."

However, the marae preferred not to have a visible police presence on the marae itself. "Often that sort of thing undermines the mana of the traditions and protocols. So it's best low key."

She said if people did misbehave "we just put them out of the gate and then the Pakehas take over with their flash policemen. Simple as that, don't worry about it."

- NZ Herald

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