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

'This is the way New Zealanders want to see Waitangi Day': Bill English caps off Waitangi visits

Prime Minister Bill English finished his Waitangi Day visits in Auckland with a walkabout in the crowd at Hoani Waititi Marae where a concert was being held.

But the most common subject of discussion was not Waitangi Day, it was John Key.

And it was mainly young people who raised the subject of Key, the former Prime Minister, who suddenly quit in December.

"Where's John Key?" one boy asked.

"I dont like John Key," a girl said.

The next comment about John Key was unprintable.

The recognition level for English was very high, considering he has been Prime Minister for only two months.

He was very warmly received in the walkabout and in the powhiri, led by former Maori affairs Minister Sir Pita Sharples.

Hoani Waititi is an urban marae, and not affiliated to an iwi.

English started the day at Ngati Whatua's Orakei marae on Bastion Point, and then down to the Ngati Whatua festival and Okahu Bay.

English said it had been great to celebrate Waitangi Day at an urban and iwi marae and a way to highlight their achievements.

"This is the way New Zealanders want to see Waitangi Day.

"This has been a unique way to celebrate it without some of the usual distractions.
"I think that fantastic and I look forward to it changing the tone of Waitangi Day over the coming years.

He said New Zealand felt pleased about what it had achieved and the way it resolved differences - including 82 Treaty of Waitangi settlements - especially compared to the way many other countries dealt with internal conflict.

That was illustrated at Bastion Point.

"It was pretty dark days there in the 70s and 80s and there is now a successful iwi, like many others, who have been able to overcome pretty deep-seated issues.

"New Zealanders are proud of that, they want to feel proud and I think today they do."
At Ngati Whatua, he said New Zealand had developed a unique culture of dealing with difference and diversity and tension among groups.

"There are so many places where the same kind of grievances, the same kind of history are trapping those countries in tension and conflict.

"In New Zealand we couldn't avoid it and we have dealt with it in a remarkably successful way by any international measure.

"That ability is becoming in my view, one of New Zealand's longterm advantages and one of the reasons so many people now want to live here."

He talked about how the business of Government had changed a great deal in the past 10 years driven by the presence of the Maori Party in the Beehive and because leaders such as Tuwharetoa's Tuku Te Heuheu and Ngai Tahu's Mark Solomon brought iwi together to work constructively with Government on a regular basis.

He met 150 iwi leaders in Waitangi last Friday.

"We have built confidence that any issue that can be dealt with will be dealt with in fair and progressive way."

Some of issues had included the Foreshore and Seabed, freshwater rights and an area of current concern was how to deal with the most vulnerable children.

He said the continual renewal of leadership was impressive.

"These fantastic young people who are bicultural, bilingual, tough, generous and respectful - that has to be a recipe for success over the next 23 years through to our bi-centenary [in 2040]."

English spoke passionately about whanau ora, the family-focused service delivery model introduced by Dame Tariana Turia and himself when he was Finance Minister.

Despite some trenchant criticism, he shared the view that "actually any whanau has some spark of hope which we can support, which we can grow because that is who in the end fixes the whanau. It is not the department of social welfare, it is not the Ministry of Health."

"Much as we have good intentions, the truth is we have not realised the promise to our tamariki yet of protection from violence, safe community, a good education and some type of support that encourages aspiration and not dependency.

"For many we have, but not for everybody."

And for the ones where we haven't met it, they were not just a cost to the system.

"They represent a failure and in my time, 30 years of public policy, whanau ora represents the next or the best, the truest, the most honest approach to dealing with those, supporting those who we haven't dealt with."

It was not going to happen easily. Government had to get used to the fact it was not "just in and out in a crisis - it's 20 years, 30 years."

English has returned to Wellington to attend the Governor-General's garden Party at Government House.

- NZ Herald

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