23 Jan 2018

Honeymoon period between Māori and govt could be short-lived - English

10:43 am on 23 January 2018

Opposition leader Bill English believes the new government's relationship with Māori could become strained because it will try and control Māori institutions.

Mr English said the National Party enjoyed a "good robust" relationship with Māori during its time in government.

"I think because we recognised their increasing independence, forward looking business focus, getting benefits for the members of the iwi.

"I think the new government's going to struggle a bit with that, the Labour Party historically is prone to try and control the Māori institutions and now that it's won all the seats back I'm sure they'll be expecting Māori to line up with government objectives.

"But they've got their rangatiratanga, they're independent, they're doing a lot of business among themselves and there'll be a bit of tension there."

He believes there is a risk of things going backwards.

Watch: Bill English on Morning Report

"Labour have a much more government-dominated view of how Māori should behave, and they've already expressed that.

"They made it clear they don't regard the Iwi Leader's Group of being legitimate or doing the job well. I would absolutely dispute that ... if anything there's a risk that the progress that's been made over the last 10 years will drift into fog of politics as the big egos try to exert control."

Mr English is playing down the significance of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's decision to spend five days at Waitangi commemorations, saying it has not worked in the past.

"I think they're probably hoping they'll get some progress with Ngāpuhi and their settlement ... but the Ngāpuhi claim is essentially for some version of sovereignty and there's deep divisions among them, I don't think they'll be solved by the prime minister spending a couple of days there."

It is expected Ms Ardern will speak on the marae at Waitangi during the formal welcome, a move that would set her apart from former female leaders.

He believes his decision to stay away from Waitangi last year may have helped prompt some change.

"They've [the trustees of the Treaty Grounds] yet to show that they can exert control, and by that I mean have a ceremony there which is befitting the pride New Zealanders have in their country ... they have the opportunity this year to show that that's what can be delivered.

"I hope it all works, it hasn't in the time I've been going there, it's pretty much every time been marred by some kind of controversy. Just remember how wider New Zealand has often seen this, they get a bit apprehensive if not a bit bored by the build-up to Waitangi Day and the unnecessary controversy around it."

Mr English will stay away from Waitangi again this year but will be going to Ratana celebrations.

Last year as Prime Minister he was lauded for his use of te reo at the event but last week he said it wasn't the government's job to keep the language alive.

"It basically belongs to Māori, and what will save it is primarily Māori speaking it, if they don't speak it in their homes, you can't make bureaucrats speak it in their offices. I think it's such an obvious point, it's time someone said it.

"It is Māori culture, it's not my culture directly but it's part of New Zealand culture. It's why I use it as a show of respect more than any other political leader so the criticism that somehow I'm closed-minded about it I think was way off the mark but it does depend on the communities and families owning it and speaking it."