6 Feb 2009

New spirit at Waitangi, leaders agree

9:50 pm on 6 February 2009

The leaders of New Zealand's two major political parties agree a new spirit of celebration and debate is emerging at Waitangi after earlier years had been soured by angry protests.

But Prime Minister John Key and Labour Party leader Phil Goff disagree about which party has the most to offer Maori.

Friday marks the 169th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February, 1840. The Treaty is New Zealand's founding document.

Mr Key and Mr Goff were accompanied by large numbers of their MPs as the National and Labour parties used the opportunity to woo Maori voters.

It was Mr Key's first visit to Waitangi as Prime Minister and also the first time the Maori and National parties have come to the Treaty grounds as a coalition Government.

Mr Key - who signed the support deal with the Maori Party after last year's election - says National has more to offer Maori than any other political party.

But Mr Goff rubbishes that claim, saying Labour remains a strong friend of Maori.

He said the first challenge for the Government comes next week when it decides if it will raise the minimum wage to protect low income earners against the worst effects of the recession.

Mr Goff said he used his dawn service prayer at Waitangi to pray for the peace and wellbeing of New Zealand, "but also for all of our leaders to ask for the wisdom that they will need to see us through a difficult period ahead."

Both Mr Key and Mr Goff were greeted warmly at Waitangi, despite two men attacking the Prime Minister when he arrived at Te Tii Marae on Thursday.

The pair, aged 19 and 33, have been charged with assault.

A time to celebrate, says Governor-General

Governor-General Anand Satyanand says though some New Zealanders have felt despondent about Waitangi Day in the past, it should be a time to celebrate the nation's achievements.

Mr Satyanand delivered his annual Waitangi Day address at a ceremony at Government House in Auckland on Friday evening.

He said in the past, some people have commemorated Waitangi Day as if it was a day of mourning. But it is the most appropriate time for the country to celebrate New Zealand and its people.

Mr Satyanand said New Zealanders should be proud the country was founded not at the point of a gun, but after the peaceful signing of a Treaty.

He said the positive force of the Treaty of Waitangi has been reflected in the achievements of so many New Zealanders who will guide the country through difficult times ahead.

The Governor-General also spoke of the spirit of volunteers in this country, saying they are the glue that holds New Zealand's society and economy together.

Sharples praises past protesters

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples praised the protesters of the past at Waitangi, saying they did what was needed to draw attention to Treaty rights.

He told the congregation at a Waitangi church service on Friday that he honoured the young activists of recent decades who had the courage to challenge their elders.

Dr Sharples said gains such as a Maori Language Commissioner, Treaty settlements and a growing acceptance of the importance of the Treaty came out of the protests.

However, he believed unity is still elusive. The names of Maori and Pakeha are side-by-side on war memorials throughout New Zealand - yet he says, there were still Pakeha (people of European descent) who have never been to a marae.