5 Feb 2009

Key 'not intimidated' by assault at Waitangi

10:05 pm on 5 February 2009

Prime Minister John Key says he will not be intimidated and intends returning to Te Tii Marae next year despite being attacked during Waitangi celebrations on Thursday.

The diplomatic protection squad was forced to intervene when two men rushed at Mr Key when he arrived at the marae at Waitangi for celebrations marking the 169th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty.

Mr Key arrived more than an hour late as his plane was delayed by fog. As soon as he got out of the car at the lower marae, two men rushed at him.

Radio New Zealand political editor Brent Edwards, who witnessed the incident, said one man grabbed Mr Key around the upper chest or neck area and shoved him back.

Diplomatic protection squad police officers responded immediately and there was a scuffle before the two men were led away.

Mr Key was clearly shaken by the attack, but unhurt, and took two or three minutes to regain his composure, Brent Edwards reports.

The Prime Minister was then led onto the marae by Titewhai Harawira, smiling and flanked by police officers, Maori wardens and Government MPs. He received a warm welcome.

Two men, aged 19 and 33, have been charged with assaulting Mr Key. The pair appeared at Kaikohe District Court on Thursday afternoon and have been released on bail on condition that they stay away from Waitangi.

Attack by glory seekers - Key

Ngapuhi elders apologised for the attack. But Mr Key told the crowd at a powhiri that the iwi should be proud of the way it had organised the festivities.

He said he would not be deterred by what he called a couple of "glory seekers" who were out of synch with the rest of New Zealand and did not plan to increase the number of his security staff.

"When I got out of the car a couple of young guys tried to thump me. So I've just got a little message for them: if they think that's gonna stop me coming back next year, or the year after, or the year after that - they better think again.

"I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a quitter."

Mr Key visited Te Tii marae last year as Opposition leader. Before his arrival, he said he had always had a good reception at the marae and hoped to see Waitangi Day as an occasion of unity and celebration.

Phil Goff and more than 20 Labour Party MPs were also given a warm welcome on Thursday as a Labour leader returned to the marae for the first time since former Prime Minister Helen Clark was jostled there in 2004.

Mr Goff said it is important there is strong debate at Waitangi, but it should not spill over to abuse or physical confrontation.

He said celebrations at Waitangi are important. "We celebrate of course Waitangi Day all around the country, but in this place, its a very special place because its where our nation was born."

Titewhai Harawira expressed disappointment at the attack. The veteran protester, who once made Helen Clark cry, said the two men were acting independently.

Mrs Harawira said the coalition agreement between the National and Maori parties has put Maori and the Crown at the same table, which is important. Maori could not afford to throw that away with useless messages and actions.

Events at Waitangi

The New Zealand Navy ended Thursday's ceremonies at Waitangi with a beat retreat on Treaty grounds in front of the Governor-General Anand Satyanand and Mr Key.

A national iwi leaders forum was held on Thursday, where Maori leaders gathered to talk about Treaty issues including water allocation, the Foreshore and Seabed Act and the Tuhoe settlement.

On Friday, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty at Waitangi starts with a dawn karakia at the meeting house on the Treaty grounds. Mr Key and Mr Goff will both attend.

Later in the morning, 18 waka will sail out on the bay followed by a mid-morning church service. Waitangi Day will also see many entertainment and sports events before the Navy again beats retreat.

Maori king welcomed

The Maori king was welcomed onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Wednesday as a son of Ngapuhi. It is King Tuheitia's first visit to the historic grounds in Northland.

More than 600 people attended the powhiri, and the Waatea News reporter at the Treaty grounds said King Tuheitia was welcomed by Ngapuhi as one of their own, as his whakapapa links to the north were acknowledged through his mother.

King Tuheitia and other dignitaries wore black and he carried a photo of his mother, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the former Maori Queen.

Also present were members of the Tongan royal family.