Rodney Hide: Waitangi Day a shemozzle

Waitangi Day dawn service in the Treaty Grounds. Photo / Michael Craig
Waitangi Day dawn service in the Treaty Grounds. Photo / Michael Craig

There many excellent reasons for the Prime Minister to stay away from Waitangi but being banned from speaking isn't one of them. That's because he hasn't been banned.

The central reason should be that the day and its organisation are a complete shemozzle.

It's unclear who is in charge and what their authority is. Waitangi Marae Chairman and Waitangi Day 2017 co-ordinator Ngati Kawa Taituha complains of "unauthorised individuals" writing to the Prime Minister "regarding the co-ordination of the Prime Minister's Treaty Commemorations Powhiri".

He explains such communication has "created much confusion and uncertainty". He recommends the Prime Minister only "dialogue" with him.

But Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua wants the organising committee sacked. "I want these guys [on the organising committee] out. I want these young bucks to get out. I want now the elderly people to take control of Waitangi Day ... I'm not happy at all. A lot of the tribe are not happy."

The organisation itself is chaotic and divided.

Then we have the day itself.

The presence of the Prime Minister and other dignitaries serve only as a platform for protesters to claim their 15 minutes of fame.

We have had the wet T-shirt thrown at the Queen, Helen Clark reduced to tears, mud thrown at Don Brash, John Key jostled and a sex toy thrown at Steven Joyce. The images make news around the world.

It's not dignified and it's not acceptable to have a solemn ceremony and the representatives of our nation so repeatedly besmirched. That's reason enough for the Prime Minister to stay away.

The organisers are also using the day to attempt political leverage. The chairman writes to the Prime Minister: "What would definitely help us in our endeavour is if the Government restrains itself from making controversial public announcements that could potentially provoke the Maori Nation and force our people into taking major protest action around the country, like the TPPA signing did on 4 February 2016."

He appears to be clumsily backing the use of the day for protest. And to be threatening the Government over what it can and can't do in the lead-up to Waitangi Day.

That is unacceptable. The organisers of a ceremony don't get to dictate policy to a democratically elected Government.

For these reasons no Prime Minister should attend Waitangi Day celebrations at Waitangi.

But there is no ban on the Prime Minister speaking. Taituha is clear about that.

He simply proposed a powhiri where the Prime Minister's Maori representative would speak on his behalf as part of the formal welcoming ceremony. That seems to be eminently reasonable.

The Chairman then proposed "a stage and a forum for the Prime Minister to engage with Ngapuhi, address the nation and talk politics freely and uninhibited, if he so wishes".

The Prime Minister has done the right thing in not attending Waitangi but for the wrong reason.

- Herald on Sunday

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Rodney Hide

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