5 Feb 2012

PM forced to cut short visit to Waitangi marae

9:13 pm on 5 February 2012

The Prime Minister has cut short his visit to the marae at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands after protest action got too noisy and his speech was drowned out.

John Key led a large party of government ministers, MPs and officials on to Waitangi marae on Sunday morning for an official welcome as part of Waitangi celebrations.


Mr Key's arrival comes against a backdrop of disquiet over Government obligations to the Treaty of Waitangi in new legislation and funding cuts at the Maori Development Ministry (Te Puni Kokiri).

Each year, New Zealand marks its national day and the signing of the Treaty at the township of Waitangi on 6 February in 1840. The marae and Treaty grounds have been the site of major protests in previous years.

On Sunday morning, about 30 protesters carrying placards and flags remained outside the marae chanting that Aotearoa was not for sale.

Prime Minister John Key arrived and was immediately surrounded by police and Maori wardens.

As he was about to be led onto the marae, a scuffle on the other side broke out involving a small group of protesters, including the Popata brothers who in 2009 were convicted of assaulting Mr Key at Waitangi.

The protesters remained quiet while kaumatua (Maori elders) spoke, but upped the volume when it was Mr Key's turn.

His speech lasted less than two minutes, which did not give him a chance to address issues including assets sales, as he had promised.

Mr Key quickly left the marae soon after, as protesters tried to block his car, but were held back by police. A short time later, Labour Party leader David Shearer was welcomed on to the marae - but to only minor heckling.

Mr Key plans to return to Waitangi marae next year and says he did not feel threatened in any way by the protesters.

"At some point, the general view was that we can take those discussions to other parts of Waitangi and continue to have them. We'll continue to do that. I'm not angry about the situation - I just see it as a bit of a lost opportunity."

National MP Tau Henare says politicians are used to being abused on the Waitangi marae - but Sunday's debacle was self-defeating.

Tau Henare, who was the Northern Maori MP for six years in the 90s, says people have a right to protest, but the people who wanted to hear Mr Key had rights too - and they missed out.


Maori want Treaty obligations upheld

Iwi leaders say they're not satisfied with the Prime Minister's explanation for the Government's position on asset sales.

Mr Key addressed the hui for the Iwi Chairs Forum on Sunday afternoon.

Te Runanga o Nga Puhi chairperson Sonny Tau says they have told Mr Key tribal leaders are unanimously against changes to the State Owned Enterprises Act.

He says he asked Mr Key if treaty obligations will be included in the new legislation.

Mr Tau says he isn't satisfied that Mr Key responded by saying that he would look at the idea.

He says he and other iwi leaders will lobby government ministers to uphold the Treaty in new legislation.