Hikoi of thousands protests Supercity

Maori will develop their own infrastructure within Auckland if they are not given seats on the planned Super City, says Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples.

Speaking after today's mass hikoi, Dr Sharples was confident that Prime Minister John Key was still open to ideas and the door was still open.

But he said if Maori seats were not accepted, Maori infrastructure would grow and Maori will have their own capacity within Auckland.

"We're now a major player in the economy in terms of labour and everything around this city.

"If we can't be included, Maori will turn in on themselves and say OK, we'll develop our own infrastructure and we'll be our own source within this city,'' Dr Sharples said.

Auckland CBD has returned to normal following the hikoi to protest the dumping of Maori seats in the new Supercity council.

Traffic began to flow again after the hikoi finished at Aotea Square, with around 6000 protesters gathering at a temporary marae to listen to speeches.

Earlier in the day marchers had waved placards and chanted as they made their way slowly up Queen St.

Banners reading ''No Super City Without Us'', ''Don't delete Maori seats'', ''John's taking our key'' and ''Move aside Rodney Hide, give us back our Maori pride'' were thrust upward as marchers sang and shouted and walked peacefully, but with determination.

Police flanked the street and re-directed traffic away from the hikoi, and reported that protesters had been well behaved.

Fairfax suburban newspapers editor-in-chief Dave Kemeys said there had been some gang patches present and cars were driving along Queen St waving Tino Rangatiratanga flags.

MPs Shane Jones and Parekura Horomia attended the march but stopped off at McDonalds before carrying on their way.

Protesters had converged on the intersection of Customhouse and Queen Street after marchers arrived in the city from Auckland's east, west, north and south.

Thousands had been expected to attend the final stages of the hikoi, arranged after the Government dumped a Royal Commission proposal to have three Maori seats on a 23-member council, two elected and one appointed by local iwi.

The Government instead decided it wanted just 20 councillors, none directly elected by Maori.

Marchers had gathered on the North Shore, West Auckland, Manukau City and Bastion Point, 6km east of downtown Auckland, to prepare to head into the city.

All but the Bastion Point marchers drove or took trains into the city, the North Shore and West Auckland protesters gathering at Victoria Park and the South Auckland group heading to Auckland Domain.

All three of these groups had made it to their locations by 10.30am. A gathering of hundreds, rather than thousands, had arrived at Victoria Park by 11am.

Many hikoi protesters gathered at Britomart in Auckland's city centre, with some having travelled to the city from Papakura on the train.

Clive Dixon from Papakura said he had never been on a protest march in his life, but he was concerned about the lack of process.

"What's the point of spending all the money and time on a royal commission and then totally ignoring it?"

Ted Ngataki, the chairman of the kaitiaki group that advises the Papakura District Council on Maori issues, was very upset with the lack of Maori seats and he hoped to sway the powers that be.

"Our young ones are already disregarding councils because there is little Maori leadership.

"There should be a relationship and a partnership. We want to get better at it, not have it ended."

Members of the Pacific and Sikh communities had also joined the march as it slowly started moving from the bottom of Queen St.

Kemeys said the mood had been positive and there had been a lot of prayers and haka and reunions of old friends.

The large police contingent had had little to do, he said.

KEY DISMISSES HIKOI

Earlier today, Prime Minister John Key said he didn't think the hikoi would make much difference to Government plans, saying it was the wrong forum to raise concerns.

"Obviously people have a right to protest and we respect that," Mr Key said on TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

"I don't think the hikoi of itself will make any difference really. . .we are going to go through the select committee process, that's not a whitewash we are actually going to listen to what happens there. We are trying to work on getting an outcome that works for everyone."

Mr Key said Labour had supported a unitary council and the majority of Aucklanders were also behind it.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide told the programme the Government was listening and did want to engage with local iwi and discussions with the Maori Party were continuing.

"I have to say though it's pretty tough to imagine a situation where you have a reserved place or places on the council for a local tribe."

Hikoi organiser Ngarimu Blair told Radio New Zealand this morning the goal was to "galvanise" Aucklanders in supporting the inclusion of Maori seats.

"(It's) also giving them a voice (for) their concerns about how their democratic rights are being ridden roughshod over through this very rushed process," Mr Blair said.

He said the intention was not to inconvenience Aucklanders.

"That's why we have the hikoi at lunchtime. If we were aiming to cause disruption we would have had it at rush hour."

- NZPA, with MICHAEL FOX and DAVE KEMEYS, Stuff.co.nz