6 Feb 2021

Ardern at Waitangi: 'I do not shy away from need' to fix Māori issues

2:57 pm on 6 February 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she's "totally open" to going to Te Tii marae next year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed with a pōwhiri at Te Whare Rūnanga on 4 February, 2021.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed with a pōwhiri at Te Whare Rūnanga on 4 February, 2021. Photo: RNZ / Jogai Bhatt

Speaking on the treaty grounds after the dawn service, Ardern said she'd be guided by the Waitangi Trust, "on behalf of all parliamentarians".

"One of the things I think we've all enjoyed is the fact that when we come onto the upper marae we do it as MPs together, so not that party political approach and I think that's a good thing."

Since Ardern's been prime minister, she has not been welcomed onto Te Tii marae. In 2016 then prime minister, National's John Key refused to go on at the last minute, after questions about whether he'd be welcome and able to speak. He told RNZ at the time he'd only attend under "conditions of equity and fairness", and he did not return for the remainder of his tenure.

Ardern has attended Waitangi each year but all of the formal events have been at the marae on the treaty grounds. Labour's Māori MPs were welcomed onto Te Tii marae for the first time in four years to fulfil the wish of the late and staunch Labour supporter Rudy Taylor - however, a question of whether they will be able to return remains.

If she did go onto Te Tii any decision about whether she'd take daughter Neve would be "like every other parent, whether or not Neve comes with me is often down to what the sleep routine is at that time".

The dawn service at Te Whare Runanga at Waitangi was noticeably smaller than usual due to Covid, with about 2000-3000 people present.

Ardern said though the enthusiasm for the event was undiminished, with some New Zealanders here for the first time.

"Here on the grounds, a fantastic environment and increasingly the lead-up to Waitangi Day is being used as a chance for good, robust debate...and that's how it should be."

There was a sense of "raw optimism" at Waitangi, she said, about what the Crown and iwi could achieve together.

Achieving for Māori

Speaking to RNZ, she said her change in language from "transformational" to "foundational" change was not an attempt to dampen expectations about improving life for Māori.

"For me it was not a switch, all of the issues that we have always talked about were still present in my speech; housing, unemployment, issues with our justice system- all still there.

"For me it was just acknowledging that some of the works we are doing about policies in a moment in time, they're about things that can create long-term change and lay the foundations for the next generation to really have a start in understanding our relationship and understanding the treaty which perhaps some of us didn't have," she said.

Jacinda Ardern arriving at Ruapekapeka Pā

Jacinda Ardern: "All of the issues that we have always talked about were still present in my speech; housing, unemployment, issues with our justice system." Photo: RNZ / Jogai Bhatt

Ardern said she had never lost her ambition, despite how big the challenges were.

"The clouds, the things that hang over, those things are still there. I do not for a moment shy away from the need to continue to progress...equally for us it is not sufficient, we must keep going."

On housing, she said she had spoken with iwi leaders about the potential to partner with the Crown, which has the access to the infrastructure that would be needed.

"How do we find in those high needs areas that arrangement where we can make the use of Māori land where it is available and where it is on offer to partner with the Crown to provide housing in high need areas for whānau," she said.

When asked if it was time for New Zealand to have its first Māori Prime Minister, Ardern said there should be such representation at every level, "including this role".

Collins' first outing at Waitangi as National leader

Collins was among the dignatories at this morning's dawn service.

Speaking to RNZ afterwards she said she didn't see the need for a written constitution, as the current arrangements were enduring.

The Treaty was part of what she described as a set of constitutional documents and "understandings", which serve New Zealand well.

"I sometimes look at countries with extremely beautifully written constitutions protecting everyone from everything run by dictators, who actually imprison anybody who says anything other than what they want."

One of the announcements from Ardern in the lead-up to Waitangi Day was to smooth the way for Māori wards in local councils. Collins said the National caucus hasn't yet had the chance to discuss it and form a position.

But if legislation was passed under urgency, National would oppose it.

"We're concerned about any changes to local democracy without those going to the people themselves to look at... the government did not campaign on this at the last election.

"If it's in urgency we will definitely not support it, it is the wrong thing to do... it's a quasi constitutional issue," Collins said.

National Party leader Judith Collins at Te Whare Rūnanga on 4 February, 2021.

National does not favour using urgency to smooth the way for Māori wards in local councils, leader Judith Collins says. Photo: RNZ / Siobhan Wilson

Peters for governor-general?

Ardern has poured cold water on the suggestion New Zealand First leader and former deputy prime minister Winston Peters could be the next governor-general.

Peters, who usually has a prominent presence at Waitangi celebrations, has kept a very low public profile since his election loss last year.

When Ardern was asked if she'd endorse him as governor-general, she said it was her view that the position should not be held by past politicians.

"It has only happened once in our history and at the time it was quite controversial, I'd rather remove that controversy and there is any number of fabulous candidates.

"That is not about one person, that is just a general position," a view she said she's long held.

"From me it's a no to any past, central government politician," she said.

Review RNZ's blog on commemorations at Waitangi today.

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