Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has told the people of Ratana that his government's priority is getting people into jobs, backing up his MP Shane Jones' comments about getting his 'nephews' off the couch and into work.

Peters is a regular at the annual event marking the birthday of the Church's founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, but this year was also filling in for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern is missing the annual celebrations because of her trip to Europe and the World Economic Summit in Davos - the same reasons former PM John Key missed it in 2015.

Filling in for the PM meant he focused on the government priorities instead of his own party policies, saying it was emphasising jobs, the regions and child poverty.


He also assured them the coalition government was stable.

"It ain't going to fall apart shortly or anytime soon."

He assured them their promises were not hollow. "We don't want people in politics who are fast on the lip and slow on the hip."

Ardern's absence and the recent centenary commemorations of the Church, resulted in a lower attendance and more low-key event this year.

Peters' said there was no question she should be in Europe and the Church followers understood that.

He told the Church followers that everybody knew that in Europe she was representing everyone on the marae as well as New Zealand.

"She would prefer to be here than in cold Davos, I can assure you."

Earlier he had refused to take any further questions on that topic from some media, saying it was ridiculous to question her absence.


Government parties Labour, NZ First and the Greens were welcomed on this morning, while the Opposition National Party contingent led by leader Simon Bridges was welcomed this afternoon. Maori Party representatives are also expected.

Bridges has equated the proposal for a referendum on drug reform with Brexit, saying he does not believe there should be a vote on something without significant public debate about the consequences first.

Speaking at Ratana today, Bridges then set out strong opposition to decriminalisation. "I see no good in decriminalisation for Maoridom."

He questioned whether it would simply magnify problems already experienced with alcohol.

He introduced Paula Bennett, who has just been appointed as National's Drug Reform spokesperson, as "National's drugs czar" and said she would help lead the debate on that.

Bridges also told those at Ratana that National would not politicise the Treaty settlement process.

He spoke of National's record on Maori issues in Government, from the Maori wardens to housing and Treaty settlements. "More Treaty settlements than any other Governments."

"We feel we've done the mahi, Labour gets the votes," he joked.

"We promise with [Treaty minister] Andrew Little to not get in his way, to not throw stones, to help him as he gets on with that work."

He then took a jab at the Labour Government, saying he did not believe they had the plan or wherewithal to make the changes they had promised.

"I don't see that they have the plan to do the things that are required." He pointed to the number of working groups Labour has set up to look into policy issues, saying action was needed.

He referred to housing, employment and poverty.

"National didn't have all the answers. We didn't get it all right, But we had very strong rhetoric from the Labour Party that they would fix the issues. I don't see the plan to do that."

He said National would soon start rolling out its own plan on such issues to show it was prepared to govern from 2020.

With many senior ministers out of the country, including Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little, those at Ratana included Labour's Deputy leader Kelvin Davis, David Parker, Kris Faafoi, Chris Hipkins, Nanaia Mahuta, Willie Jackson and Peeni Henare as well as several MPs.

Both Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson were there.

Ratana is usually a peaceful day, and politicians are urged to keep politics out of their speeches.

One of the Church ministers, Joe Everitt from Te Kao, used the opportunity to raise a gripe he had about registration fees for the church ministers.

He said he had been directed to pay more money to the Government for doing Jesus' work. "That law, when you get back, screw it up and toss it in the bin. Why should I or anyone else pay any money for doing Ihu's {Jesus'} work?"

NZ First's Shane Jones addressed Everitt's concerns in typical irreverent fashion, saying he had noticed Everitt was limping and he may be in need of some medicinal marijuana.

He said he would get Government ministers to check out Everitt's concerns about the fees - and make sure it was not the former National Government's fault.

Jones also recalled being very angry when the Ratana followers welcomed former TOP leader Gareth Morgan a few years ago, given TOP's policy to allow people to have two marijuana plants for personal use.

"But now we are about to legalise medical marijuana, I have to say he was right and I was wrong."

Ardern had told the Church followers she would not be able to attend when she visited for the centenary commemorations late last year, something the elders acknowledged in their speeches.

Labour has a long-standing alliance with the Church, brokered by the Church founder Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana and former Labour leader Michael Joseph Savage.