6 Feb 2014

Treaty settlements come a long way

10:22 am on 6 February 2014

Relations between Maori, Pakeha and the Crown are "vastly improving", with Treaty of Waitangi settlements coming a long way since they began in the mid-1990s, Prime Minister John Key says.

Mr Key is at Waitangi to mark the 174th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and began Thursday at a church service, where he led a prayer in which he gave thanks for New Zealand being a blessed and prosperous country.

Following the service, Mr Key told Morning Report that of the 67 Deeds of Settlement that have been signed, his Government has signed 41 of them.

"That's not the sole measure of whether race relations are going well but, equally, I think there's widespread community acceptance that we will work alongside Maori in a lot of areas where there is a natural interest, for instance the Waikato River settlement," he said.

"That's not unique - it's unique for Waikato River but that framework is being used in other places - and I don't get a sense from other New Zealanders that they find that either unusual or not appropriate."

Opposition political parties on Wednesday used politicking at Waitangi to send Maori a message to vote for them and help change the government.

The parties say the Government has done nothing to help Maori or poor regions such as Northland.

But Mr Key rejected that criticism, saying he got a good reception when he spoke at Waitangi marae.

"The funny thing is that ... there are a lot of people in that meeting house, and a lot of people nodding their heads and a lot of people said to me at the end of it, including Titewhai Harawira, 'good speech'," he said.

"It doesn't mean they're going to vote for us, it doesn't mean they agree with every bit of it but, actually, our Government has got a good record."

Labour leader David Cunliffe, is also at Waitangi, said he received such a warm welcome from Ngapuhi he believed the iwi was endorsing Labour.

David Cunliffe.

David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ

He told Morning Report the welcome he received from Ngapuhi was the warmest he had ever seen Labour receive on the paepae.

"So strong that I don't think it would be improper to call it a bit of an endorsement from Ngapuhi to Labour," Mr Cunliffe said.

"There was very much a recognition that they want the Government to change, that they want a new start."

Mana leader Hone Harawira said he wanted to see Waitangi Day move away from the stoushes of the past to become a time to measure Treaty of Waitangi achievements.

Speaking at Waitangi, Mr Harawira said the protests and confrontation there were usually a small part of the day but received a lot of media attention.

The lower level of confrontation this year was a sign the commemorations could be moving towards being a more constructive event, he said.

"I'd like Waitangi Day to be the day when we challenge ourselves to be a better nation in this year than we were last year, to have laws, to have policies, to treat our children better."

Meanwhile, Joel Bristow, the spokesperson for a hikoi against deep sea oil drilling has accepted Mr Key's challenge to visit Wellington to be persuaded about the benefits of drilling for Maori.

Anti-drilling banners on Wednesday greeted Mr Key's arrival at Waitangi to mark the 174th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Mr Key invited Mr Bristow to Wellington to spend a week talking to ministers about what Mr Key says are the benefits to Maori from the drilling.

If they could not convince Mr Bristow his anxiety was misplaced, then Mr Key would himself join the next hikoi.

Joel Bristow said he was accepting the challenge but was so far unconvinced.

"John Key says there is small risk. Small risk is any risk ... there's no second changes."

The hikoi was on behalf of all New Zealanders, not just Maori, he said.