Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau has gone in to bat for protesters at the Waitangi Day dawn service, saying "you get nothing without protest in this country."

Mr Tau was speaking at the Dawn Service on behalf of his hapu and said he wanted to pay tribute "to those people called 'protesters.'

"I don't think they are protesters, they are people who express strong views. And despite what the views are, we need to be thankful that we have them because you get nothing without protest in this country."

He said he wanted to thank those who "strongly express their messages" but added he did not always agree with the methods used.


Mr Tau has had a difficult year and is due to face a further charge soon after he was caught with kereru last year and has pleaded guilty to charges of hunting and possessing the endangered bird.

Mr Tau took a leave of absence as the chair of the Ngapuhi runanga and stepped down as chair of Ngapuhi's settlement negotiation body Tuhoronuku after he was charged. He was at the iwi leaders' meetings with Government ministers at Waitangi.

National's Steven Joyce was not as enthusiastic as Mr Tau about the efforts of protesters after being the brunt of one yesterday. Asked if he agree with Mr Tau's sentiments, Mr Joyce said: "I think Sonny said sometimes their methods we didn't agree with, and I certainly agree with that."

Mr Joyce had his own run-in with a protester yesterday when Josie Butler threw a novelty fake penis at his face during a media standup. Mr Joyce said today he was not worried about a repeat performance at the Dawn Service: "but come and stand next to me." He has now left Waitangi.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he agreed with Mr Tau's sentiments about protesters. "Yeah, I think he's absolutely right. Protesters are a vital form of our political institutions and when people are aggrieved or have a point to make they should feel free to make their point."

Mr Little also responded to Mr Tau's comment that "[Little] had a lot more work to do," saying Mr Tau had said a similar thing about previous Leaders of the Opposition.

In November, Mr Tau pleaded guilty to charges of possessing and hunting kereru after he was caught with the endangered birds at Invercargill airport last year.

He is due to face a third charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice early this year.