Prime Minister John Key's no-show at Waitangi 'no great loss'

Prime Minister John Key was welcomed onto Te Tii Marae in Waitangi last year but has refused to attend this year.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister John Key was welcomed onto Te Tii Marae in Waitangi last year but has refused to attend this year.

Protest banners were being unfurled and tents erected when the wind suddenly changed at Waitangi on Thursday.

Prime Minister John Key had pulled out of attending the marae at the last-minute amid threats of a gagging order and security concerns.

Protesters promised to do everything in their power to stop Key stepping foot on Te Tii Marae on Friday, but in the end they didn't need to.

As the news spread through the grounds, a cold breeze brought rain and a diminishing chance of political fireworks at the marae. 

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The show would still go on without Key, with opposition parties including Labour leader Andrew Little expected to attend.

Families were gathering for the weekend's celebrations, including Francis Conrad who began visiting as a child. 

"Waitangi Day means to be celebrating as one."

Conrad said she loved the family atmosphere.

She shrugged her shoulders when told about the Prime Minister's decision to stay clear of Waitangi celebrations.  

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"It's no great loss. The day will still go on."

The news of Key's decision came the same day as large-scale protests in Auckland's CBD against the TPPA.

But the mood at Waitangi was far more subdued with only a few hundred people gathered there on Thursday afternoon.

It remained to be seen how many people would turn up and whether a forecast of rain would further dampen protest spirits.  

Many were still on their way when the target of the planned protest - the Prime Minister - announced he wouldn't attend.

Ngapuhi elders said protesters could still make their concerns known at Waitangi over the long weekend.

This is the first time Key won't attend any part of Waitangi celebrations.

In 2008, Key criticised former Prime Minister Helen Clark's decision to shun Te Tii marae.

Labour leader Andrew Little has accused Key of a lack of leadership over this decision.

Key was having to defend his decision and said on Thursday he was "not running scared".

Te Tii Marae trustee Emma Gibbs-Smith said he was cowardly not to show just because he couldn't use the marae as a political forum.

But marae kaumata Rihari Dargaville said Key could talk politics but had to keep it brief and called on him to "toughen up" and show his face.

Meanwhile Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua made it clear protesters would do everything in their power to stop Key entering the marae and his decision not to attend was a "blessing".

 - Stuff

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