Waitangi gauntlet awaits PM

ANDREA VANCE AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 08:51 04/02/2013
John Key stands arm in arm with Hone Harawira's mother, Titewhai
JOHN SELKIRK/The Dominion Post
POWHIRI PAIR: Prime Minister John Key stands arm in arm with Hone Harawira's mother, Titewhai, as he is welcomed on to Te Tii Marae last year.

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Prime Minister John Key is doing his best to stay out of a stoush over who escorts him on to the Waitangi lower marae.

Troubling is brewing ahead of this weeks' celebrations as Ngapuhi leaders try to oust activist Titewhai Harawira from her regular job of guiding the VIP visitor.

She's digging her heels in.

Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul is also threatening to make a speech about the water rights court battle which threatens to delay the Government's asset sales agenda.

This morning Key tried to diffuse the battle saying he'll do what he's told on the day. And he's warned small outbreaks of protesting overshadow what is ultimately a family day.

"Waitangi can be a bit of a honeypot for activists," he said.

"I suspect that's going to carry on. I've no expectations it will go away.

"The tragedy of that is it portrays the wrong image."

He encouraged people to attend, saying it was a "gorgeous location".

"I wouldn't be put off by what happens," Key said.

Ngapuhi leader Kingi Taurua said Harawira - mother of Mana party leader Hone - should give kuia at the marae a chance.

"They clean toilets, prepare kai ... and the question is, where is Titewhai then?"

The marae's board of trustees nominated Ani Taurua to accompany Key. Harawira has indicated she won't give up without a fight.

Ngapuhi leader David Rankin said Harawira's actions were "culturally inept".

But Auckland University of Technology professor of indigenous studies Rawiri Taonui told a radio station this morning that she had served the marae for 40 years and deserved the honour.

Meanwhile, a speech on water rights could further embarrass Key on the day. The Crown and the Maori Council are engaged in a Supreme Court battle over the issue.

The council will hold a meeting in Waitangi today to discuss what Paul's speech would say - but they have made it clear the focus would be water.

Taurua said Paul had asked, and been granted, permission to give a speech during the celebrations while Key was present.

Maori were concerned about the sale of state-owned energy companies, lamented the lack of a written constitution, and felt the Government "seems to think that they own the Treaty".

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