Ihumātao: Simon Bridges slams PM for timing of Tokelau trip

12:48 pm on 30 July 2019

Opposition leader Simon Bridges says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern should never have got involved in the Ihumātao dispute and now she's walked away at the worst time.

Simon Bridges.

Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Mr Bridges is taking the side of Te Kawerau iwi authority - the group given the mandate at Ihumātao - rather than the thousands of protesters occupying the land.

He said this is the "biggest occupation of land in living memory" and Jacinda Ardern is nowhere to be seen.

In 2014, when the 32 hectares of land at Ihumātao was designated a Special Housing Area, it prompted a group of protesters known as SOUL to begin its peaceful occupation.

Fletcher owns the land but struck a compromise with Te Kawerau to return eight hectares of land to mana whenua - the iwi with historic and territorial rights over the land.

On Friday, before leaving for a week-long trip to Tokelau, the prime minister announced a halt on all building until agreement was reached.

Mr Bridges said Ms Ardern was wrong to meddle.

"She's put herself in it and where is she? She's taken herself off for days to Tokelau - 1500 people - well every MP has a street she hasn't visited that has many more people than that and look, whether it's the stalling economy, whether it's Ihumātao, whether it's a bunch of other issues - the prime minister and government are showing themselves to be a part-time prime minister and government,'' he said.

But Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis said international trips take a lot of planning and cannot just be ditched at the last minute.

"The prime minister does have her obligations, having an international visit isn't something that can just be switched on and off. There's a lot of preparation that goes into it and she has to fulfil those obligations,'' he said.

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Earlier Foreign Minister Winston Peters gave a strong indication the Crown will back Te Kawerau iwi authority in the ongoing dispute at Ihumātao.

Mr Peters told Morning Report he doesn't have a view on organisers Pania Newtown and the Save Our Unique Landscape or SOUL group.

"We need to look at the facts as fast as we can possibly assemble them, find out where the truth lies, and then make up our mind after we've done that."

Mr Peters said there had been significant media sensationalism around the protest.

"[There are] all sorts of claims made by outsiders that are not authoritative and actually compromise them and don't enhance or help us try to solve this problem.

"They're both whakapapa to the area, but the reality is - you know, in our culture - you can be whakapapa to the area, but you're required to follow the cultural traditions of authority and that starts at the top, not at the bottom."

Mr Peters emphasised that Māori tradition defers decision making to elders.

"If you're going to assert the need to maintain Māori culture, then you're going to have to first observe it."

"We respect Māori tradition and we're not going to ride roughshod over it."

Mr Peters rebuffed claims that Ihumātao protests were akin to Bastion Point.

"That was a clear case where Māori had been shifted out of there illegally."

Mr Davis and his colleagues Willie Jackson and Peeni Henare are holding a hui this week with all the parties involved at Ihumātao.

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