Prime Minister Bill English's choice not to attend main Waitangi Day commemorations questioned

By Mikaela Collins -
67 comments
Then deputy Prime Minister Bill English is welcomed on to Te Tii Marae prior to Waitangi Day 2015 - a sight you won't see at this year's commemorations.
Then deputy Prime Minister Bill English is welcomed on to Te Tii Marae prior to Waitangi Day 2015 - a sight you won't see at this year's commemorations.

A Ngapuhi kaumatua says Prime Minister Bill English should not be "a spoilt child and run away" from Waitangi Day commemorations after he announced he would not be going to Te Tii Marae because of speaking rights.

Prime Minister Bill English announced yesterday he would not be attending the main Waitangi Day commemorations in the Bay of Islands, making it the second year a Prime Minister has not attended the event after former Prime Minister John Key did not attend last year.

Mr English's chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, wrote to Ngati Kawa Taituha, Waitangi Marae chairman, clarifying the speaking rights at this year's pre-Waitangi Day powhiri.

Mr Taituha responded saying at the conclusion of the powhiri a stage will be provided for the Prime Minister to "engage with Ngapuhi, address the nation and talk politics freely and uninhibited, if he so wishes".

But Mr English did not accept that.

"I've made a decision that the arrangements they want to put in place were not acceptable, not respectful, so I'll be celebrating Waitangi elsewhere," he said.

"The marae committee's decided that the Prime Minister of New Zealand can't speak on their marae and that, as far as I'm concerned, is not respectful of the role."

The Northern Advocate contacted Mr Taituha for comment but as of yesterday he had not responded.

Ngapuhi kaumatua Kingi Taurua said he was surprised at Mr English's decision, saying kaumatua and trustees had decided that this year political discussion would take place in a tent outside the marae.

"Bill English has his rules and protocol for their marae in Wellington and if we break that protocol we could end up in jail," he said.

"There's always been a boil and it needs to be pierced. Running away does not pierce that boil ... I say to Bill English don't be a spoilt child and run away, come to Waitangi."

At least two hui had been held last year to discuss this year's Waitangi Day commemorations after John Key did not attend last year because of confusion over whether or not he was welcome, and a lack of speaking rights on the marae.

Pita Paraone, a member of the Waitangi Day organising committee, said Mr English's reason to not attend Waitangi Day commemorations was a "cop out".

"I think he may have misunderstood or he just does not understand what the powhiri is. The powhiri is about welcoming people. The home folk had allowed the political parties to express what they may want in a tent outside the marae ... Given this is an election year it would have been an opportune time for him to outline his intentions for this year."

In a letter to Mr Eagleson from Mr Taituha, he said another change was to welcome the Beehive as one collective group rather than as separate and independent political parties.

A Waitangi Day planning hui is scheduled for Thursday.

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