30 Jul 2019

Labour hits back at Bridges over Tokelau criticism

8:57 pm on 30 July 2019

National Party leader Simon Bridges has been labelled "desperate and disrespectful" for saying the prime minister should not have gone to Tokelau.

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Mr Bridges said Jacinda Ardern should never have meddled in the Ihumātao land dispute in Auckland and now she has left the country at the worst time.

Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand with a population of 1500 people and it's been 14 years since a prime minister visited.

Deputy PM Winston Peters is in Thailand, and Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis has ditched Parliament to attend to the land occupation that is dividing political parties.

On the eve of her trip, Ms Ardern went to Auckland and met with some of those involved in the Ihumātao conflict and announced any building development at the site would be halted until a resolution could be found.

In 2014, 32ha of land at Ihumātao was designated a Special Housing Area, prompting a group called Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) to begin peaceful resistance by occupation.

Fletcher Building owns the land but struck a compromise with Te Kawerau iwi authority to return 8ha to the mana whenua.

Mr Bridges said Ms Ardern should not have got involved.

"She's put herself right in it, and as I say, where is she? She's gone on a trip for days to Tokelau, 1500 people, well, every MP has a street in New Zealand which she hasn't visited with many more people than that," he said.

"Whether it's the stalling economy, whether its Ihumātao, whether it's a bunch of other issues she's showing herself at the moment - and the government's showing itself - to be a part-time prime minister and government."

On his way into the House for Question Time, Finance Minister Grant Robertson questioned what exactly Mr Bridges was getting at with his dig at Ms Ardern.

"I don't quite know what Simon Bridges was saying when he said the phrase 'part-time prime minister' - I do wonder if there is a bit of a sexist overtone in that," he said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mr Bridges said everyday New Zealanders should be Ms Ardern's priority.

"I said at our National Party conference my bottom-line is you - everyday New Zealanders who are struggling because of what this government is doing to the economy. We've got issues with housing, a land occupation that the prime minister has sparked off, and she's gone off to Tokelau.," Mr Bridges said.

"She clearly isn't focused on the issues that matter to New Zealanders."

A backwards-and-forwards spat flowed into Question Time, where Mr Robertson challenged Mr Bridges on what he meant by "everyday New Zealanders".

"The prime minister believes that all New Zealanders deserve to see their prime minister once in a while, and unlike the previous government we're not going to ignore the people of Tokelau, nor are we going to behave in such a disrespectful way as the leader opposition has, by suggesting that Tokelauans aren't everyday New Zealanders," Mr Robertson said.

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.

New Zealand First is also backing the mandated iwi, and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones took aim at what the protesters were wearing when speaking to Radio Waatea this morning.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, also Forestry Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Associate Finance Minister, Associate State Owned Enterprises Minister, Associate Transport Minister

Shane Jones Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"Look, I've got zero tolerance when I saw some of the personalities out there dressed up in yoga pants," Mr Jones told Radio Waatea.

"They don't speak for mana whenua and they don't, in my view, represent the long-term interests of Māori traditional leadership."

When asked by RNZ what yoga pants had to to with it, Mr Jones said "a lot of those people, they're only interested in iwi politics when it accords with their far-left views and I don't see why they should be given any legitimacy at all in the treaty settlements process".

"They should all pack up their freedom camping gear and go home," Mr Jones said.

The Green Party has been at Ihumātao in support of the protesters and is blaming a flawed Treaty settlement process for the current mess.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson would not say whether Ms Ardern should have stayed in New Zealand to sort it out.

Ms Ardern arrives back on Thursday night but there's no word yet on whether she will visit Ihumātao on her return.

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