The Treaty Grounds museum will honour the contribution from Northland and the wider contribution made by the whole Māori battalion to both Māori and the national interest.

The people Northland have long known the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi are not just a regional taonga but a national treasure too.

One very tangible recognition of this importance was New Zealand First's insistence that a commitment to build on those Treaty Grounds a museum honouring the work of 28 Māori Battalion in World War II be included in our coalition agreement with the Labour Party.

In February the mauri (life force) stones were buried to mark the beginning of construction of the museum, which is due to be completed early next year.

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While individual companies from the battalion are commemorated in Rotorua and Gisborne, the Treaty Grounds museum will honour the contribution from Northland and the wider contribution made by the whole battalion to both Māori and the national interest.
For the men who served it was both a major adventure and, as Sir Apirana Ngata said at the time, "the price of citizenship" for Māori in New Zealand. That price included the highest casualty rate of any New Zealand army unit.

As the Minister charged with stewardship of the Provincial Growth Fund I was proud it was able to provide the funding for the museum.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones. Photo / Stephen Parker
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones. Photo / Stephen Parker

Further recognition of the national importance of the Treaty Grounds was provided last week when my colleague, the Associate Minister of Arts and Culture, Grant Robertson, declared the grounds our first National Historic Landmark, status that will be applied to other places of historical significance, to help ensure they are conserved for future generations.

Earlier last week I serenaded the media when, with my rangatira, the Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and Minister of Transport Phil Twyford, we announced some of the detail of the $1 billion investment made in rail in the 2019 Budget, setting out how large parts of that money will be used to buy desperately needed locomotives and wagons after more than a generation of managed decline.

Within the $1b we have earmarked a contribution from the PGF of $300 million for regional rail initiatives. As Northlanders and residents of other regions know, provincial New Zealand has been a major casualty of KiwiRail's managed decline, with services being removed as investment has been neglected and infrastructure run down. The funding is intended to support initiatives that upgrade the ability of KiwiRail to offer services that contribute to the economic development of regional New Zealand.

Several weeks ago we reopened the Napier-Wairoa line, which had been closed since 2012, and the PGF has also funded significant research on how freight is moved around the upper North Island road, rail and sea network. We have most recently funded a business case for the upgrade of the Northland rail line and the connection of that line to Northland's major port. Investment decisions await the completion of the study later this year.

As I sang last week, "This train is bound for glory ... "