Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Northern Maori leaders call for new location for Waitangi Day commemorations

John Key chose to spend Waitangi Day in Auckland this year. Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Key chose to spend Waitangi Day in Auckland this year. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Northern Maori leaders are calling for the Prime Minister and Government to attend Waitangi events at a new location in future years.

Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Paraone, who organised the Waitangi Festival, questioned whether Ti Tii Marae was still the most suitable place to welcome the Crown.

Mr Paraone, who is a New Zealand First MP, said the powhiri could be moved to the Treaty grounds at Waitangi or neighbouring marae, as had been done in the past.

"If we're going to provide uncertainty every year perhaps that ought to be a consideration," he said.

Some iwi leaders had expressed disappointment to Mr Paraone about the management of this year's event, which Prime Minister John Key refused to attend because of uncertainty about whether he would be allowed to speak.

Mr Paraone said that if the main site was moved, it would need approval from all northern iwi, which would be a difficult task.

But he said the discussion was needed to create a safe, stable environment to host MPs.

Former Labour MP Shane Jones, who is based in Northland, said Te Tii Marae had become a "fool's paradise" and the welcome ceremony for the Government was being "held hostage" by its trustees.

"This notion of getting 52 people together, the majority of whom didn't even seem to come from the north, and then making a decision that binds the rest of the tribes of the north, shows the vision of a karahu - some sort of mud-flap oyster," he told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Jones also believed an event could be staged at the Treaty grounds in front of the carved meeting house.

This would not eliminate protest and tension, which was now a part of modern Waitangi Day commemorations, he said. But it would allow MPs to have a say again.

Prime Minister John Key denies he broke a long-standing promise by not attending events in Waitangi this year.

Mr Key chose to spend Waitangi Day in Auckland because he was concerned he would be blocked from discussing politics at Te Tii Marae in Waitangi.

When he was Leader of the Opposition, Mr Key said that he would go to Waitangi every year if he became Prime Minister.

He made the commitment in 2007 after Helen Clark stopped going to annual commemorations at Te Tii Marae.

Mr Key told Radio New Zealand this morning he did not think he had gone against this commitment by staying away this year.

"Under conditions where there is equity and fairness, you wouldn't go there if you can't speak," he said.

He said his speaking rights were taken away because claims by marae elders that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was bad for Maori did not stack up.

... that the Treaty is completely excluded and the only benefits are positive. They know that undercuts their argument," he told Radio New Zealand.

Te Tii trustees originally invited Mr Key to attend with no limitations, but then sent a second letter revoking this invitation.

Mr Key decided not to attend after failing to get an assurance that he could speak freely at the marae.

"It is a ridiculous scenario," he said. "You can't have a situation where politicians go to the lower marae, like we go to marae all around the country as part of the ongoing engagement around the Treaty where there is an exchange of dialogue and views.

"That's what it is - a meeting house to talk about issues and to give a perspective."

Mr Key also expressed safety concerns, saying there could be "massive, violent riots" if he had spoken about the TPP.

"[Ngapuhi elder] Kingi [Taurua] seemed to be going around saying that's his expectation," he said.

Labour leader Andrew Little criticised Mr Key for not going to Waitangi and has made a similar pledge to attend every year if he became leader of the country.

- NZ Herald

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