Treaty issues should have taken precedence over Iraq, say Labour leader and some locals.

Waitangi is usually about domestic friction, but yesterday war overseas dominated on the marae.

Labour leader Andrew Little criticised the Prime Minister for arrogance after John Key used his speech at Te Tii Marae to make the case for going into Iraq and attacking Labour for hypocrisy.

Mr Little said he had not heard Mr Key's speech but some locals at the marae had described it as "arrogant".

"They thought this was a time for humility and reflection and talking about the Treaty." He said he agreed and had stuck to that Treaty relationship.

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Mr Key, speaking off the cuff, had addressed the issue of Iraq after earlier speakers criticised him for considering sending New Zealand personnel to help with training against Isis (Islamic State). They included Maori Council head Maanu Paul, who said he was concerned Mr Key was putting Maori at risk "as you participate in the global problems and want to be a 'family' with the United States and England".

Mr Key responded by launching into Labour and the left, saying they did not believe New Zealand should intervene despite criticising him for failing to speak out on human rights enough.

"So the very people who tell me their whole DNA is laced with human rights and standing up for people who can't protect themselves tell me to look the other way when people are being beheaded by kids, burned by kids and thrown off buildings. Well, sorry. Give me a break. New Zealand is not going to look the other way."

In general the powhiri for National and Labour went peacefully this year bar a handful of protesters.

Mr Key's most gruelling appointment of the day was with the powerful Iwi Chairs' Forum, which was looking for assurances on water rights and iwi ability to buy state houses and provide social housing.

Ngapuhi chairman Sonny Tau said his iwi was eyeing some of the state houses the Government planned to sell in Northland. He said the policy provided commercial opportunities for the iwi and it was seeking rights of first refusal.

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6 Feb, 2015 6:00am
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Housing Minister Bill English said iwi would be on an equal footing with any other organisation, although some iwi did have rights of first refusal.

Iwi leaders had hoped to get the Government to agree to develop concrete proposals for iwi water rights within a year. Mr Key said two years was more realistic and iwi would not get greater rights for water use than other groups.

'Playful' Peters may stand

The Northland electorate is a National stronghold but at Waitangi all eyes were on a more colourful possible candidate for the looming byelection: NZ First leader Winston Peters.

Mr Peters was dropping his usual cryptic hints left, right and centre, saying he had been inundated with calls suggesting he stand in the byelection, forced by the resignation of Mike Sabin.

While he was yet to make a decision, he insisted he was deadly serious, saying the region was neglected compared with others.

"It is clear as daylight that this place needs a voice. The question is for the people of Northland - are they going to wake up and demand better, and if they do, then we'll most likely give them a chance to do just that." His family had been in Northland for centuries and he knew what the region needed "more than some other pretenders".

Prime Minister John Key laughed off Mr Peters' apparent confidence. "He's a playful thing - he's known for the tease. He might stand and if he does we'll look forward to campaigning against him but you wouldn't bet the marae on it would you?"