Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Prime Minister Bill English believes decision not to go to Waitangi will help Nga Puhi on Treaty

Prime Minister Bill English says his speech on Monday at Ngati Whatua would be "forward-looking, rather than dwelling on the intricacies of Waitangi Day." Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Bill English says his speech on Monday at Ngati Whatua would be "forward-looking, rather than dwelling on the intricacies of Waitangi Day." Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Bill English believes his decision not to go to Waitangi this year will help the northern tribes of Nga Puhi to organise themselves for their Treaty of Waitangi negotiations.

He said that once the settlement - which could be worth over $200 million - was finalised, it could make a big difference to Waitangi Day in the north.

"My view is once they get sufficiently organised and united to pick up the settlement, it will flow directly through into Waitangi Day because they could really make a feature of it when they are an organised, cohesive and well-resourced outfit."

What was happening at Te Tii Marae was a symptom of that underlying problem to organise, he told the Herald.

"I think the decision not to go is going to help.

"I think the decision of John [Key] not to go last year and me not to go this year is helping realise that it is all looking a bit obvious that they need to get better organised."

English declined an invitation to go on to Te Tii Marae on February 5 because a letter from marae chairman Ngati Kawa Taituha said someone else had to speak for him - English is the first Maori speaking Prime Minister in modern times.

The marae kaumatua Kingi Taurua has since apologised for the letter.

English visited Waitangi yesterday today to speak to 150 iwi leaders at their annual chairs forum at Waitangi - but he avoided driving past Te Tii Marae by taking the unsealed back road to the Copthorne Hotel.

Asked if that gave him hope that things would be organised enough for him to go next year if he was still Prime Minister, he said: "I wouldn't go that far."

"Their energy has got to go into the settlement. There have been a lot of false starts on that but the last few months it does feel like there has been a wee bit of progress."

English cited the difference settlements had made to other iwi.

"From Wairarapa to Wairoa they have picked up $400 million. They've got economic summits and investigations and advisers and it is all working.

Ngati Whatua Orakei was the wealthiest iwi in the country, he said, with a balance sheet valued at nearly $1 billion and a relatively small number of tribal members.

He said his speech on Monday at Ngati Whatua would be "forward-looking, rather than dwelling on the intricacies of Waitangi Day."

English said he still believed in the concept of "one nation" and "one law for all."

"It's a pretty important principle actually but in the end the decisions of Government have to be made by the democratic representatives at the same time as accommodating iwi.

"We got some fairly unique arrangements for doing that, including the one today.

He did not believe that the Hobson's Pledge group - led by former National and Act leader Don Brash - would get much traction in the election campaign.

"Those sorts of campaigns tend to be at the theoretical issue whereas we are trying to deal with the issues day by day and resolve the ones that come in front us - and keep them out of the courts."

Differences between the Crown and Maori 30 years were resolved in court cases.

"It is unpredictable and it hasn't necessarily yielded the best possible results so we tried to find solutions."

He dismissed Andrew Little's claim that staying away from Waitangi on Waitangi Day was a failure of leadership.

"I hope he keeps on saying it," English said.

He was part of only 3 per cent who shared that view compared to 97 per cent who didn't.

- NZ Herald

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