Prime Minister Bill English to attend Ratana a day early because of clash with first Cabinet meeting

Prime Minister Bill English continues his break with tradition by attending Ratana a day earlier than other political ...
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Prime Minister Bill English continues his break with tradition by attending Ratana a day earlier than other political leaders.

The Prime Minister will head to Ratana a day earlier than expected because the 25th celebrations clash with Cabinet's first meeting of the new year.

Bill English will meet with Maori King Tuheitia and Tuwharetoa chief Sir Tumu Te Heuheu when he attends Ratana on January 23 - all other political leaders won't arrive at Ratana until the following day, which has been set aside for political talks.

It's understood a delegation of National Party MPs will attend Ratana with English and a group will also be there on January 24 representing the Government in the Prime Minister's absence.

English's decision not to attend Ratana on the day set aside for political talks comes only a week after he announced he wouldn't be attending Waitangi on February 5 or 6 - the two days the leader of the country traditionally turns up.

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The attendance of the prime minister at Waitangi is a vexed issue every year, with John Key making the decision not to go in 2016 after being refused speaking rights and receiving threats of protests. 

English said he had written to marae officials after being appointed prime minister to determine the conditions on his attendance, and been told he would not be able to speak at the powhiri - a decision which he did not believe was appropriate for the leader of the country.

While protests at Waitangi had been "nationally relevant" 15 to 20 years ago, that was no longer the case, he said.

"Political discussion at Te Tii Marae is now really about Ngapuhi issues and their own concerns in Northland, but it's a national day, a day for New Zealanders to be proud of their whole country.

"A lot of New Zealanders cringe a bit on Waitangi Day when they see the way that the ceremonies are being conducted, the ceremonies and welcomes, the type of protest there has been in recent years, and I'm pretty keen that we have a day when they're proud."

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English said he had not yet decided what he would do on Waitangi Day, although he will be in Auckland.

Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua has since apologised to the Prime Minister for calling him a "spoiled child" for not attending Waitangi.

Taurua said he was "disgusted" by the way English had been treated by those organising Waitangi and said he wouldn't attend under those conditions either.

Ratana is considered the first political event on the calendar and is an opportunity for Maori chiefs at the marae to hear from politicians about policy for the year ahead.

Up to 10,000 people were expected to attend this year.

 - Stuff

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