5 Feb 2016

Parties divided over PM's Waitangi no-show

5:56 am on 5 February 2016

Prime Minister John Key's decision not to go to Waitangi has been described as unreasonable and arrogant by the Green Party.

John Key announcing he won't be attending Waitangi.

Mr Key announces he won't be attending Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Key announced the decision yesterday, saying Te Tii Marae trustees' refusal to let him speak was effectively a gagging order.

The trustees had told him in a letter if he wanted to make a political speech he would have to give it in the political forum tent, away from the wharenui.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the marae trustees got to set the rules at Waitangi, just as Mr Key did in Parliament, and Mr Key was simply throwing a tantrum.

"Because he can't have it his own way he's refusing to go."

Mrs Turei believed the issues were in part manufactured by the Prime Minister.

"He knows there are big issues with the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership] for Maori and that it would be a big issue here, as it was at Ratana."

But Mr Key has won some backing from his political opponents for cancelling his visit.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he had some sympathy for the Prime Minister.

"I can understand there's some frustration there because he's been told he's welcome and then not welcome and he can come and speak and come and not speak."

But Mr Little said Waitangi was New Zealand's national place and it was right that the Prime Minister should be there. He said, if he was Prime Minister, he would have turned up regardless as an act of leadership.

Mr Key said he was not prepared to face TPP protesters at Waitangi if he did not get a right of reply.

"I'm certainly not running scared at all.

"I've been very keen to go, I gave a commitment that I'd go every year, it was a pretty basic commitment around what you'd expect - for the government to turn up to have its particular message of the day and to engage and we wanted to do that.

"But I can't go and I won't go to Waitangi with a gagging order on me."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said no Prime Minister should be told they were going to be muzzled over what they were allowed to say, and Mr Key's decision was reasonable.

The Prime Minister's absence also means no government minister or Crown representative will be officially welcomed onto the marae today.

Te Ururoa Flavell, the co-leader of the Maori Party, which is a government support partner, said he was not keen to go it alone.

Mr Flavell said his intention was to go on as a support partner to National as the Maori Party had done before.

"But if he [Mr Key] is not going to be going on then I will go on the tangata whenua side."

Mr Flavell said he was welcomed onto the marae on Thursday as part of the Maori Party and had already paid his respects.

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