Labour leader Andrew Little has committed to return to Te Tii Marae and Waitangi every year if he is Prime Minister - the same pledge Prime Minister John Key made in 2007.

Mr Little made the pledge this morning after the Dawn Service. He criticised Mr Key's no-show saying it was the national day and Waitangi was the place the Treaty was forged. "I think the Prime Minister should be there as the head of Government and the person we look to on days like this."

Mr Key will be attending the NRL Auckland Nines but is yet to reveal if he will go to any other functions. Mr Little said the Nines was a family event. "But I think most New Zealanders will expect him to do something that looks like he's taking Waitangi Day seriously, so maybe he'll fit something else in along the line."

He said if he was Prime Minister he would return each year, both to Te Tii and the Dawn Service. Asked if it was time to look at marking the day elsewhere, Mr Little said there were other functions around the country but Waitangi was "the crucible of New Zealand and the foundation of modern New Zealand and the head of government should be here."


His commitment and the circumstances around it echo those of Mr Key in 2007 - Mr Key committed to return each year partly to highlight former Prime Minister Helen Clark's refusal to go onto Te Tii. Ms Clark stopped going in 2004 after her party was rushed at and jostled as it went up the ramp to the marae.

Despite Mr Key's commitment he was not at Waitangi this year, pulling out after failing to secure an assurance he could speak on political matters at Te Tii Marae on February 5.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell raised that in his prayer at the Dawn Service, saying Maori and the Crown needed to talk face to face "in a way that recognises each other's mana."

"There is political capital to be made from tapping into people's fears about what they do not know." He said some appeared determined to divide rather than unite the Treaty partners. "We are a better nation when the Treaty of Waitangi is honoured. In that light, I pray to you that Prime Minister John Key returns to Waitangi next year."

Economic Development Steven Joyce, who filled in for the Prime Minister at the service, said he was sure Mr Key would be keen to return but that would depend on whether he was invited back to Te Tii Marae without any confusion about his speaking rights. "Im sure the Prime Minister is keen to return, but it is important that the invitation be respectful of the office of the Prime Minister of New Zealand."

Although no National MPs went to Te Tii after the Prime Minister's decision, a few ministers had stayed up to represent the Government.

Mr Little said it was the national day and it was important the Prime Minister was there. "Hopefully Te Ururoa Flavell's prayer will be answered next year."

Mr Key had decided not to attend any Waitangi Day events in Waitangi because it was tikanga to pay respects to the tangata whenua at Te Tii before moving on to the Treaty grounds.