26 Jan 2024

Luxon fronts fierce criticism from Māori ahead of Waitangi

From Focus on Politics, 7:00 pm on 26 January 2024
Collage of Kiingi Tuuheeitia at Rātana Church with Winston Peters, Christopher Luxon and Shane Jones behind.

 A collage showing Kiingi Tuuheitia, with Winston Peters, Christopher Luxon and Shane Jones, superimposed in front of the church at Rātana.  Photo: RNZ

"We will have differences of opinion and that's okay" - Christopher Luxon

Coming hot on the heels of last weekend's Hui-aa-Motu and the Rātana celebrations, Waitangi Day this year promises to be highly emotive and political.

The government's policies have prompted calls for resilience and resistance, and a dramatic show of unity from much of Māoridom.

On Saturday, some 10,000 people turned up to the hui at Tuurangawaewae Marae at the invitation of the Kiingitanga under a banner of unity and accountability.

The leaders of the three governing parties were notably absent, sending National's Tama Potaka as a government representative to listen and report back on key themes.

Tama Potaka at Rātana Pā.

Tama Potaka at Rātana Pā. Photo: Angus Dreaver / RNZ

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon - at his first post-Cabinet media briefing of the year on Tuesday - stated a desire to work with Māori to deliver improved outcomes. 

"We are a country that has a diverse set of views," Luxon said. "The day we all think exactly the same, we've got a big big problem in this country."

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The next day he - alongside NZ First's Winston Peters and Shane Jones - came face to face with that difference of opinion, forcefully expressed by the speakers at Rātana Pā, the annual celebration of the faith's founder's birthday taking on greater significance this year.

Warned by the hosts that Māori would "not sit idly by" if there was any measure of meddling with Te Tiriti, Luxon offered this assurance: the government had no plans to amend or revise the Treaty or Treaty settlements and would honour the Treaty. 

Tama Potaka, Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis face questions from media at Rātana on Wednesday 24 January 2024.

Tama Potaka, Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis face questions from media at Rātana on Wednesday 24 January 2024. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

His commitment was somewhat undermined, however, by his equivocation over ACT's Treaty Principles Bill. 

Luxon has repeatedly said National had "no intention, no commitment" to support the bill beyond select committee, but he has also refused to explicitly rule it out.

ACT's David Seymour is hopeful of persuading National to support the bill further and clearly sees it as an open question. As in the past, Seymour did not make an appearance at Rātana but promised to show at Waitangi.

The debate is certain to continue there, and given the growing tensions and its rich history of protest, emotions will be running hot.

In this week's Focus on Politics, Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch assesses the coalition's response to the challenge laid down by many in Māoridom, as the political year gets back under way.

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