Key: No Waitangi Day tears amid SOE storm

DANYA LEVY, MICHAEL FIELD, ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 13:29 03/02/2012

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Prime Minister John Key is undeterred by the risks of a hostile reception at Waitangi this weekend and vows matriarch Titewhai Harawira is not going to make him cry.

His predecessor Helen Clark was in 1998 reduced to tears on the lower Waitangi marae when Harawira challenged her right to be there.

"Not this one," Key said in response to a question on whether he feared the same fate.

Harawira, mother of MP Hone Harawira, is expected to be at the marae.

"She is normally in command and control of the lower marae and I am fairly confident she will be there."

He was commenting after the Mana Party earlier warned he will get a hostile reception at Waitangi as anger among Maori grows over the potential removal of Treaty of Waitangi rights and cutbacks at the Maori Affairs Ministry, Te Puni Kokiri (TPK). At least 50 jobs are expected to go.

There are fears the government does not want to include Section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act - which requires the Crown to act in a manner consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi - in new laws to allow the sell-off of four power companies.

MAORI PARTY WEIGHS IN

Meanwhile, the Maori Party has ramped up tensions by issuing its own 'consultation' paper on the issue.

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell issued a "primer" on the SOE sell-off, criticising the "short timeframe for consultation."

Flavell's document sets out the options for new legislation and makes clear the Maori party preferences. It urges Maori to take part in hui around the country or make written submission.

He said it was a "critical issue" for Maori.

"Given the short timeframe for consultation on this issue, we thought it necessary to put out a stimulus paper presenting key information for interested parties," he said.

"Basically, we have about two weeks to develop a position as whanau, hapu and iwi on this issue. That is not much time, considering our history and the complexities of our relationship with the Treaty and the Crown."

Labour leader David Shearer urged a more conciliatory approach, saying the holiday should be a celebration of cultural diversity.

"Protest around Waitangi Day has become a tradition. But I think focusing on grievance devalues the significance of the occasion. There's certainly always more we can do to improve our relationships with each other. But let's spend time looking forward, not backward.

"There are issues we all want to protest about, including the Government's asset sale plan...But there are 364 other days when we can make our point," David Shearer said. "Let's set aside our differences on Waitangi Day and celebrate being New Zealanders with joy and pride."

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WAITANGI DAY 'PERFECT STORM'

Mana spokesman Malcolm Mulholland this morning said Key was walking into "a perfect storm".

Mulholland questioned the timing of the two Waitangi stories and the impact on the celebration.

"No government is their right mind would want those two pieces of news breaking in the lead up to Waitangi Day," Mulholland said. "It's terrible timing, it couldn't be any worse."

But the Prime Minister said he would be happy to explain the Government's position at Waitangi.

"I hope people act responsibility and I think it is important and Waitangi Day is a day of celebration for New Zealanders as we look back on everything we have achieved," Key said.

New Zealand's race relations were the envy of many countries in the world.

"I will be there and there is always some controversy at Waitangi Day.

There had been misinformation in the debate so far and Key was confident that a solution would be found.

"It is my view that we can incorporate a specific treaty clause as we take these four energy companies out from under the SOE Act."

He said changes were being made at TPK.

"New Zealand deserves value for money for their taxpayers dollars and we are very focussed on that issue; if you always do what you've always done you'll get what you've always got."

Changes were needed at TPK and the government had no capacity for extra money.

'GOVERNMENT UNDERESTIMATING MAORI FEELING'

Mulholland said the Government had underestimated how important Section 9 was to Maori.

It was inserted during Rogernomics following an acrimonious time between the Government and Maori who were concerned asset sales then would damage future Treaty settlements.

"It was a turning point and a major victory for Maori."

If there was one piece of legislation most Maori were aware of in terms of Treaty rights it was the State Owned Enterprises Act.

"So (the Prime Minister) has severely underestimated Maori feeling on that issue.

"Most Maori in the country will say 'that is our Treaty right, we have gone to court and fought this and won'."

- Stuff

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