23 Jan 2020

Government-Māori relationship to be highlighted at Rātana

9:54 am on 23 January 2020

The political year officially kicks off tomorrow with politicians' annual pilgrimage to Rātana and being an election year the stakes are even higher.

Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw leave the budget lock-up.

Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

The government will front up to Rātana Pā near Whanganui with the Ihumātao dispute unlikely to be resolved.

With prominent Māori leaders also seeking an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing over Whānau Ora funding, politicians are under pressure to avoid further straining the relationship.

Spirits were high at Ihumātao yesterday when the Kiingitanga lowered its flag onsite - something Kiingi Tūheitia said he wouldn't do until a resolution had been reached.

There is yet to be a public announcement on the said resolution, but the spokesperson for the Kiingitanga, Rukumoana Schaafhausen made the deadline clear.

"We are confident that a resolution will be reached before Waitangi," she said.

RNZ understands an agreement of some kind between all of the parties is not far off, but there are some elements of the deal still to be hammered out.

Even then, any agreement would need to be signed off by Cabinet - the first opportunity for that to happen is not until next Tuesday.

Auckland Council would also have to formalise any deal at its end.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said a Waitangi Day deadline wasn't possible.

"What is happening and has been happening for some time is an attempt to find a way through this, but in the way the various commentators have been recorded unchallenged by the media as to what is happening, I can say that is a misrepresentation.

"This is an ongoing discussion that will take considerable time and work," he said.

It's understood at Rātana tomorrow the government will want to make public some sort of way forward before political parties arrive in Waitangi in early February.

That will likely be a plan laying out how the parties will work together to reach a final deal, rather than the deal itself.

Another pressing topic will be relationship breakdown between the government and Māori leaders over the way Whānau Ora money is spent.

Che Wilson nō Ngāti Rangi, Te Atihaunui a Papārangi.

Che Wilson. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Māori Party president Che Wilson said both issues would be straining the government's relationship with Māori constituents.

"There was a lot of hope when this government came in, it's the most Māori we've ever had in government, the most Māori ministers we've ever had and it's time for them to be united internally, so that they can then show us some wins, coming up to this election," he said.

Wilson said there would be no doubt be a range of issues raised at Rātana.

Former Māori Party leader Dame Tariana Turia is among those challenging the government over Whānau Ora and will be attending Rātana.

She said she would not be directly challenging the prime minister though.

Qiane Matata-Sipu, Kiingi Tūheitia and Pania Newton.

Qiane Matata-Sipu, Kiingi Tūheitia and Pania Newton. Photo: RNZ / Eden Fusituá

SOUL group cofounder Pania Newton, who is campaigning to halt a housing development from going ahead at Ihumātao, will also be there and said if the government raised Māori issues then Ihumātao should be raised.

"But I don't expect them to talk about Ihumātao specifically, I think they should be there for the right reasons, which is to honour the people of Rātana," she said.

However, Newton added the sooner a resolution was made the better.

So despite the government unlikely to face much criticism at Rātana, the traditionally more controversial Waitangi Day is just around the corner - meaning the clock is ticking to soothe any mounting tensions.

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