Andrew Little accuses John Key of a lack of leadership over not going to Waitangi
Labour leader Andrew Little has accused Prime Minister John Key of a lack of leadership over not going to Te Tii marae.
While Little said he sympathised with Key's frustration over the mixed messages he received from Ngapuhi trustees, he still could have gone to Waitangi and made himself available to speak.
This is the first time Key won't attend any part of Waitangi celebrations after his office received no response from Te Tii Marae as to whether he would be able to freely speak at the marae on Friday.
While Key said he would have liked to go, he couldn't with a "gagging order".
* John Key to speak at Waitangi, amid security concerns about protesters
* Division amongst Ngapuhi leaders is putting the brakes on John Key going to Waitangi
* Waitangi Day at Watiti Marae connects Sammy J with his roots
* Perfect Mike Hosking: Waitangi Day – so far from perfect
* Is it time for John Key to turn his back on Waitangi?
In 2008 Key criticised then Prime Minister Helen Clark over her decision not to attend Waitangi celebrations.
"Well I think she should get over it," he said at the time. "I mean, quite honestly, she's had some issues here but time has moved on. I think the whole focus of the events here is different - it's an opportunity for her to engage. Frankly, from the National Party's perspective we don't care."
Little said it was "provocative" of the Government to organise the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which many Maori are opposed to, only two days before the country's national day.
"It just looked like a bit of a middle finger to everybody."
Key said threats of riots and protests had also played a part in the decision given they would put him and his security staff in a "dangerous position".
"I'm certainly not running scared, I've made a commitment to go every year and I have."
"There's been very inflammatory comments from Kingi (Taurua) and others saying if I did go on to the marae and did speak about the TPP then that would incite protests and potentially riots and he would encourage that."
Key's visit was put in doubt earlier today after contradicting statements from Ngapuhi about whether he would be able to speak at the lower marae.
"Respect goes both ways, that's also the respect to allow me to actually speak. One of the big issues this year has been the TPP...in essence by stopping me going on the marae and actually answering questions...they're doing the very thing they're criticising me for."
Key said some ministers were already at Waitangi and would attend events over the next few days but they wouldn't go to Te Tii marae.
"I'm not telling them not to go, we're just simply not going ourselves," he said.
REACTION TO KEY'S DECISION
Taurua, who strongly opposed Key attending Te Tii, said he found out Key had cancelled his visit through media.
His first reaction was "hooray".
"John Key has been looking for an excuse not to come."
Taurua said he still expected a big crowd on Friday because many of the protesters would already be on the way and not have heard of the last minute change of plans.
Te Tii Waitangi Marae trustee Emma Gibbs-Smith said the Marae was not a political forum.
"We will not be bullied by his demands," she said.
Gibbs-Smith was among those who supported Key coming to the Marae and said his refusal to come was a cowardly act.
"The way he is treating this issue is trying to portray to the country that he is the victim, when in fact the victim is us, the hosts.
"We will not have our traditions altered because he's behaving like a small child."
Te Tii Marae kaumatua Rihari Dargaville refuted a gagging order was put in place.
He said the Prime Minister could talk politics during his welcoming, but only if he kept it brief.
"He needs to toughen up. [Former Prime Minister] Jenny Shipley was uncertain about coming up here, particularly after Helen Clark's demise, but she fronted up."
Dargaville said there had been poor communication from Key's office over the issues.
"He needs to be a mature Prime Minister ... and face up to what is happening in terms of the protest anger and concern."
KEY 'WON'T BE MISSED'
Former Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said Key wouldn't be missed at Waitangi, but he has a duty to go.
"He makes a big fuss about wanting to come to Waitangi to say what he wants to say but he's not going to listen to anyone else."
"It's important that he goes - he's the leader of the nation - he should make himself available to go to Waitangi on this significant day," Harawira said.
Key wasn't concerned his decision would affect his relationship with Maori.
"We have a great relationship with Maori and in terms of treaty settlements it's well above anything other Governments have done."
On Wednesday Key said he would go to Waitangi after receiving an official invite from Ngapuhi trustees, including speaking rights at the marae.
But on Wednesday night Key's office received a letter saying he was welcome on the marae but would only have speaking rights at a political forum hosted by Harawira.
"It's a little bit frustrating because it all looks completely mickey mouse if you ask me, but the mickey mouseness of it is sitting on their side," Key said.
Harawira said going to Waitangi isn't meant to be "easy" and Key shouldn't expect it to be "happy, happy, joy, joy".
"He's actually had it pretty sweet the last few years."
KEY STILL WELCOME
Earlier today Ngapuhi co-chairman Rudy Taylor was confident Key would turn up at Waitangi Because no "gagging order" had been placed on him.
But that was in direct contrast to Kingi Taurua, who said Key wouldn't be allowed to talk politics at the marae and would be expected to speak at the political forum.
"A letter was sent explaining the situation and that was final," he said.
It is this confusion between leaders at Ngapuhi that led to Key deciding not to attend at all.
Taylor said the trustees of Ngapuhi were to blame for Key's no-show and should be stripped of their role.
"The trustees are the ones writing the letters and confusing Wellington - it's time they moved on."
Taylor says those attending Te Tii marae would "gladly listen" to Key on political issues and he was still welcome to change his mind and go to the marae.
Harawira is also concerned about some of the decisions being made by Ngapuhi trustees and said their roles needed to be looked at.
"I think they've made some bad decisions but it's not about moving them aside but clarifying the roles they should play and do play," he said.
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox called the decision a "missed opportunity".
"If it was me, I would come. I would listen even if I wasn't able to speak," she said.
While it was obvious Key had been getting mixed messages from iwi, she said he had given assurances many years ago that he would always go to Waitangi to meet with the people.
Waitangi was usually a day for celebration and for Maori to express themselves, and it was "disappointing" he would not be present at "the birthplace of our nation," Fox said.
Key's attendance at Waitangi was put in doubt after Northland iwi leaders on Tuesday voted 38-14 in favour of blocking Key coming to Te Tii.
However, the vote was overruled by Ngapuhi trustees and kaumatua, and led to Titewhai Harawira, who has escorted Prime Ministers on to the marae for many years, officially welcoming Key.