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What the party leaders said at Waitangi

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins talking to the media at Waitangi in 2023.

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Prime Minister Chris Hipkins talking to the media at Waitangi in 2023.
Photo: RNZ / Ella Stewart

It is hard to separate the politics from Waitangi, but the day in which party leaders were welcomed on to Te Whare Rūnanga was largely free of inflammatory rhetoric and political point scoring.

There had been some back and forth between the Waitangi National Trust Board and political parties about who should speak, but on the day leaders turned up to deliver their messages with the trust’s request to keep overt politicking out of the pōwhiri in mind.

Watch highlights from today’s events at Waitangi here:

In his first speech at Waitangi as prime minister, Chris Hipkins declared non-Māori had nothing to fear in confronting injustices against Māori.

Speaking afterward, he said there was “a lot of anxiety amongst non-Māori New Zealanders about what treaty settlements might mean, and what the ongoing relationship between the crown and Māori might mean”.

“I don’t think we should be afraid of talking about those issues,” said Hipkins. “I’m certainly not afraid of talking about them and I can reflect again on my own lifetime, and some of the uncertainty that’s existed there.

“Actually, things have turned out okay”, he said, referring again to his experience as a child living near Te Whiti park in Lower Hutt – fears of the time about whether children would still be able to play under a co governance arrangement were unfounded, he said.

National’s Christopher Luxon also spoke on the paepae for the first time as leader; he, like Hipkins, began his address in te reo, acknowledging mana whenua: “It is a great privilege to be here… the birthplace of our nation.”

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said none of the speeches really stood out to him, with people sitting and “waiting to see what is going to be the answer to the massive cost of living in this country”.

And his review of Hipkins’ speech was not exactly glowing: “Look, I didn’t think I was hearing the Gettysburg Address. I did not think this is one of the great Winston Churchill moments.

“In fact it was all a bit flat to be honest.”

“We started as a…little experiment”

However, one part of Luxon’s speech caused some controversy: “We started on the 6th of February 1840 as a little experiment, and look at us now – the 21st century success story able to tackle the challenges that come our way”.

Labour’s MP for Northland, Willow-Jean Prime said that did not “sit comfortably” with her.

“It wasn’t an experiment. Our tūpuna when they came here, had a very clear understanding what it was that they were coming to do,” she told reporters at Waitangi.

“They wanted to work with pākehā who were here to establish a nation for all of us, respecting one another and working together.”

“I think Chris really has a lot of learning to do,” said Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. “We’re anything but little, we’re anything but experimental”.

It was a “little bit patronising”, said Greens co leader Marama Davidson.

“I’m not too surprised that those are the sorts of attitudes that the National Party has… Te Tiriti is about honouring tino rangatiratanga, control for Māori over their lands, resources and community.”

Afterward, Luxon said he was not alluding to the signing of the treaty itself, but rather was trying to say “New Zealand has been an experiment like every country”.

“That we actually start off in this place, the birthplace of a nation, and we start off with great ambition and we go on a journey together over 183 years,” he said.

“We’ve built a country that we should be incredibly proud about, that now … on the 21st century, can do amazing things and it’s all because…of some conversations to agree to work together in partnership and to build a country where actually all New Zealanders can do really well.”

Treaty settlements

Both Hipkins and Luxon referred to the treaty process during their speeches, with the latter saying National would aim to have claims – with those iwi who were willing – completed within the next seven years.

The treaty settlement process was something New Zealanders could be proud of, he said. “Most New Zealanders can see that settlements have been a genuine best endeavour to put things right.”

The process “settles claims forever” and “brings an end to grievance”, he said.

Under a National government Luxon said he would hope that by “2030 we could complete treaty settlements with all iwi that are willing to settle – then it will be possible to declare that a tremendous national reconciliation process that began in the 1990s is complete”.

When asked if that was too ambitious a timeframe, he said it was important to have a deadline in place “because we want some urgency from the government side”.

“If you think about the work that Chris Finlayson did with 59 treaties in nine years, I think actually having a target to shoot for, it’s actually really important to make sure that we get in together and we actually do the work together.”

National would work “faithfully” with Ngāpuhi for iwi to settle claims, Luxon said, recognising how hard the iwi had worked on its own claims, but there was “much… to digest with the recent findings of the Waitangi Tribunal report”.

Hipkins said the government would not impose a settlement deadline, saying the treaty “creates some ongoing obligations on us to continue to work together…and that’s not extinguished, just because treaty settlements have been completed”.

“The…process will take as long as the treaty settlement process will take – people have set arbitrary deadlines in the past and then they have adjusted them because at the end of the day, it’s not a full and final settlement if people feel that it is unjust.”

Leaders’ kōrero

Luxon and Hipkins both started in te reo, then moved to english for the bulk of their speeches.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi told Ngāpuhi to stay strong “in their struggle against this house”, also raising climate change after recent devastating flooding throughout the motu.

The Greens’ Teanau Tuiono was another to deliver his address in Māori.

ACT leader David Seymour acknowledged his Ngāpuhi roots, and also delivered his whole speech in te reo.

While still learning, he said he grew up in the north and “always had a bit of reo in me because there’s a lot of Māori spoken in Northland and has been all my life”.

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