The Prime Minister says his reception at Waitangi has been “a step up from last year”, despite a 40-minute delay while iwi members wrangled over who would escort him onto Te Tii Marae.
John Key has also committed to returning to Waitangi in the coming years, although he told Ngapuhi members they need to think carefully about how they want to be perceived by the public in the future.
“It’s up to you how this day goes,” Mr Key said during his speech inside the meeting house on the lower marae.
He says he is happy to keep coming to Te Tii, provided he is treated with respect.
“It’s an important part of the dialogue between the Crown and Maori, but in the end if they want to do what they did to me last year – shout me down and not give me a chance to speak – fair enough, but that just doesn’t take us anywhere.”
Last year chanting protesters forced Mr Key to cut his speech short. This year he spoke inside the meeting house rather than in the public area outside.
The Prime Minister described the atmosphere inside the meeting house as “reasonably friendly”.
“It wasn’t terribly hostile,” he says. “I’ve kind of seen it all in the years I’ve been coming here as Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister. There are always going to be one or two people with a view.”
He told those gathered that they needed to have faith that New Zealanders could work together to be a better country.
“We must have a modern-day focus on what the Treaty [of Waitangi] means,” he said.
He said National had done more for Maori than any other government and was especially interested in working with Maori on education, violence and mental health issues.
‘Unpredictable nature’ of proceedings raises tensions
The arrival of John Key, several of his National MPs and Maori Party MPs was delayed by 40 minutes while Maori elders tried to diffuse a standoff at the gates to the marae between the families of Titewhai Harawira and Ania Taurua.
Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua told the pair they must share the role of escorting Mr Key, but Ms Harawira refused, prompting Mr Taurua to snap: “Shut your bloody mouth”.
“I wasn’t angry,” Mr Taurua said later. “I just told her to shut her mouth because she was going on and on and on.”
Several people tried to intervene, including Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and police Superintendent Wally Haumaha.
“This isn’t about you, this is about the country,” Supt Haumaha said as he tried to encourage the parties to reach a resolution.
Mr Key was eventually escorted onto the marae by a large group of women, with Ms Harawira directly on his left and Ms Taurua a short distance away.
He says he wasn’t concerned about who brought him on, describing Ms Harawira as “a reasonably gentle old lady”.
Mr Key says there was no correspondence between his staff and the marae about who would welcome him.
“It’s for their kaumatua to decide which kuia will take me on and which won’t,” he says.
But NZ First leader Winston Peters blames Mr Key for the stoush, saying protocol dictates the guest should have told the marae who they wanted to be welcomed by.
“When he says it’s up to the local marae, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” says Mr Peters.
The dispute continued inside the meeting house, with Titewhai Harawira’s daughter Hinewhare pushing Ngati Whatua chairwoman Naida Glavish, who had been involved in trying to broker the agreement between the two factions at the marae gates.
Ms Glavish downplayed the tensions, saying it shouldn’t foreshadow the dialogue that Mr Key was able to have with Maori once inside the meeting house.
“This is not unusual,” she says. “Often some things are debated and discussed and there’s some jostling. The focus should be on the outcome – and the outcome was a very good outcome.
Key ‘won’t have a bar’ of Waitangi Day honours
Labour leader David Shearer arrived after lunch and was escorted onto the marae by Ms Harawira alone. He was joined by MPs from Labour and the Green Party.
Mr Shearer has been proposing changing the New Year’s Day honours to Waitangi honours, to give the country “something to celebrate” on Waitangi Day.
The Prime Minister isn’t interested, saying it would be completely inappropriate.
"I'll tell you now it would politicise the process and we'll move the focus of attention completely away from those individuals to whatever particular grievance is the grievance du jour of that Waitangi day."