Is it time for John Key to turn his back on Waitangi?

John Key has made it a point of honour to attend Waitangi Day commemorations at Ti Tii Marae every year. But is it time ...
MICHAEL BRADLEY

John Key has made it a point of honour to attend Waitangi Day commemorations at Ti Tii Marae every year. But is it time for a rethink?

Remember when Titewhai Harawira used to be one of the reasons politicians stayed away from Waitangi?

You reap what you sow, as they say. On Tuesday, Harawira phoned with a personal appeal for Prime Minister John Key to attend the traditional Waitangi Day commemorations at the trouble-plagued Te Tii Marae.

But if Key stays away it will be because he's sniffed the winds of public opinion as Waitangi threatens once again to descend into conflict and acrimony  - and judges that voters have had a gutsful of the annual Te Tii Marae sideshow setting the tone for our only national day.

Helen Clark made that judgement call in 2000 when she announced she would be celebrating Waitangi Day elsewhere rather than spend the day embroiled in "tension, uneasiness and unpleasantness".

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Everyone will remember that it was Titewhai Harawira who reduced Clark to tears at Te Tii marae in 1998 after refusing to accord her speaking rights.

Clark referred to that incident after becoming prime minister, noting that her tears were "not for myself but for the ruination, yet again, of an event which has so much potential for healing, reconciliation, and taking matters forward in a setting so historic and so beautiful".

Things now appear to have come full circle with Key being told his attendance at Te Tii this year will be conditional on his silence.

There's zero chance of Key buckling to that demand given the verbal abuse that is likely to be heaped on him and his government over New Zealand's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Opposition to that deal threatens to once again turn Waitangi Day commemorations into a day of confrontation and anger.

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Clark had high hopes when she cut her ties with Waitangi that a new century might allow for a fresh start on our national day. That never happened - her non-attendance became too much of a political football and she went back to Waitangi, though not Te Tii.

Key's political opponents will similarly make hay out of any decision by him to stay away.

But there may be more political downside in Key attending than staying away. If nothing else, staying away will take the heat out of another issue on which the Government faces controversy, iwi water rights, which is likely to be discussed on the fringes of Waitangi at a meeting between Government ministers and the Iwi Leaders Group.

So it may be no coincidence that Key contrasted the mood of own national day with the hoopla and national celebration surrounding Australia Day.

Using that as a reason to stay away would resonate with many Kiwis. Maybe Key, like Clark, is beginning to wonder if Te Tii's time has been and gone.

 - Stuff

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