PM John Key plays wait and see in return to Waitangi

Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua greets Prime Minister John Key with a hongi at Te Tii Marae in 2009. PHOTO/ Brett Phibbs
Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua greets Prime Minister John Key with a hongi at Te Tii Marae in 2009. PHOTO/ Brett Phibbs

Prime Minister John Key is yet to decide if he will return to Waitangi after he spurned the infamous protest spot for the first time last year.

Despite pledging to return to Te Tii Marae every year back in 2008, last year Key pulled out at the last minute after uncertainty about whether he would be blocked from going on and an attempt to restrict his speech.

That was because of calls from Te Tii elder Kingi Taurua that Key would not be welcome because of the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership the day before.

As a result no Government ministers other than the Maori Party went onto the marae.

Key said yesterday it was possible he would not return next year either.

"They have asked us for an indication at some point, whether we intend to return to Waitangi.

We haven't made that call yet. At some point we will engage with them. It's just a little bit too early at this point."

Representatives from Te Tii Marae, also known as the lower or bottom marae, and the Waitangi National Trust met last Friday to discuss next year.

Trust board chair Pita Paraone said it was important for the Prime Minister to return to Waitangi even if that meant bypassing Te Tii Marae altogether.

"I'm hoping the Prime Minister and the Crown will be afforded the welcome all visitors should have when they come to Waitangi and there shouldn't be any conditions. If the continued feeling of the bottom marae is to not make the Crown welcome, I think the alternative is we should have a formal powhiri on the Treaty grounds."

However, Paraone said no decision was reached and the groups would meet again at the end of the month.

Key has previously ruled out bypassing Te Tii Marae, saying it was customary to acknowledge the marae of the local people before moving onward to the Treaty grounds.

Paraone said Te Tii had only been a regular part of the occasion since the 1990s.

It is understood some from Te Tii were unhappy with that proposal, suggesting it would result in protests on the Treaty grounds.

The board gives Te Tii Marae a significant sum of money toward hosting duties each year and there is a possibility that money will be reduced if the Prime Minister and a big Government contingent does not attend.

However, the marae also hosts other delegations, such as Opposition parties, a group from the diplomatic corps and the Governor General.

Back in 2008, Key pledged to return to Waitangi every year if he was Prime Minister.

That was prompted by former Prime Minister Helen Clark's decision to stop visiting the marae after ongoing confrontations by protestors over issues such as the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

- NZ Herald

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