A young Maori leader has accepted Prime Minister John Key’s challenge to go to Parliament to test his opposing views on deep sea drilling for oil.
Fears over exploratory mining punctuated events at Waitangi yesterday as politicians and activists walked on to Te Tii Marae on the eve of the annual celebrations.
Protesters provided the only controversy of the day, heckling Key as he entered the marae and throwing dead fish in his way as he left.
One of the hikoi marchers, Joel Bristow, a son-in-law of Labour MP Shane Jones, told Key and marae elders their concerns over what they saw as unsafe drilling equipment being used, a lack of benefit to local communities and a high risk of a spill.
But Key said they were misinformed and mining would be good for Northland and for local iwi.
Deep sea drilling is a hot topic in the Far North, with Norwegian oil giant Statoil recently awarded an offshore Northland block to explore.
Key invited a representative of the protesters to Wellington to meet his ministers to try to prove their point.
‘‘If I am wrong and you are right, I will walk out and join that protest,'' Key said.
However, if he was proved right, that person would have to take those findings back to the community.
Bristow said he accepted the challenge and would travel to Wellington with an open mind. ‘‘But the other reason why I agreed is because I believe in everything I’ve said and everything I’ve marched for”.
“We’ve done our research and we brought it here today and just as any other politician he’s very good at giving a response, not necessarily an answer. I also told him.... does he want to create historical celebrations or historical devastation?”
In spite of some heckling, which resulted in NZ First leader Winston Peters telling a protester to “shut up”, Key labelled his reception as among the most welcoming since he took office.
‘‘It was very calm, yeah some guy threw a few pilchards or something on the way out, but I've been coming now for eight years and in a lot of respects this is one of the quietest ones.''
It was also notable for Green Party leader Metiria Turei becoming the first female politician to speak at the marae, where former prime minister Helen Clark was brought to tears when she was not allowed to speak in 1998.
Marae kaumatua Rihari Takuira said it was an “evolution” as women did not normally speak.
‘‘She is a leader and a very, very fine leader, secondly she is a Maori leader,’’ Takuira said.
‘‘This is a precedent now but it is a precedent with a purpose.’’
Labour leader David Cunliffe said the welcome to Waitangi yesterday was “extremely warm… and also a challenge”.
“The message has been very clear in the paeapae that it’s time for a change of government and that they need a new government that’s ready to rise to the challenge of unifying our society, of building lots of jobs for the young people up here and giving New Zealand a fresh start and we’re up for the challenge.”
Labour and Maori were renewing their relationship after their split over the foreshore and seabed legislation, he said.
He supported concerns about deep sea drilling.
“It’s been a very clear message, both from the hikoi and from the elders of this marae, that these people of the north do not want deep sea oil drilling.”
A Labour government would only allow drilling on the basis of world best practice environmental protections which included remediation, clean up liability and a “fair share” for the community, he said.
Meanwhile, Labour has been left ruing an apparent snub by the powerful Iwi Leaders Forum which met with Key yesterday.
Cunliffe said they had not received an invitation to meet with the forum this year "and I think that's very interesting
state of affairs especially in an election year".
"Interesting because most leadership groups at least try to pay lip service to bipartisanship in an election year. We are up for the challenge of sitting down with the iwi leaders group, obviously we meet with them individually, but we would welcome the opportunity for more formal dialogue it is a little surprising the opportunity has not been offered."
Cunliffe said it was not their place to seek a meeting saying "we don't push in".
"The decision is theirs to make ... I think their interests would be well served talking to the government that's coming in as well as the one that's going out."
Key said he would use his speech to emphasise what his government had done for Maori.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should TVNZ staff be forced to disclose party political links?Related story: TVNZ may seek staff's political ties