Jacinda Ardern has pulled off a second successful Waitangi. A third will be much harder
Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110405894/-

2019-02-06 08:33:40

OPINION: Waitangi Day doesn't usually feel like much of a break for prime ministers.

You have to get up well before the crack of dawn, protests are likely, and your te reo pronunciation will likely be lacking.

Unlike the simple patriotism one could summon for a more generic "national day", Waitangi presents more complexity.

It's easy enough to celebrate our country being beautiful, especially from the Bay of Islands. It's much harder to articulate a coherent view on our founding document and bicultural nationhood, on the work done thus far to honour the Treaty and the work ahead, and the way your Government policy works within that - all without angering the third of the country who doesn't even think the Government should go to Waitangi.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has managed it close to perfectly this week, as she did last year. So well it might have almost felt like a break, especially given the myriad problems facing her Government back in Wellington.

Part of this is stagecraft. Ardern is at Waitangi - unlike the last two National prime ministers - but she has not attended any events at the Te Tii marae, where protests are more likely and media access is complicated.

Instead her events have been at the upper marae on the Treaty grounds, which is not associated with any one iwi, and is just a few hundred feet from where the Treaty was actually signed.

Her Government also brought all the MPs attending together as one group, a show of Parliamentary unity that helped blunt any real attacks from National leader Simon Bridges in his speech on Tuesday.

Ardern's speeches managed to mask political statements and positioning as bipartisan leadership.

Who wouldn't be pleased with lowering unemployment, lowering prison populations, and a focus on children? Who wouldn't love the fact our prime minister spent the morning serving up food to the general public? Who wouldn't agree with the Dame Whina Cooper quote used by her in the prayer: "Take care of our children. Take care of what they hear. Take care of what they see. Take care for what they feel. For how the children grow so will be the shape of Aotearoa."

Even on the more contentious issues surrounding the treaty's place in our world, Ardern manages to make an actual position not shared by everyone seem like common sense.

Without directly referencing Don Brash, who was speaking down the road at Te Tii, Ardern made clear that lifting Māori economic outcomes was not enough for her.

"Equality was not a bridge" between the the Māori and Pākehā worlds, she said. Bringing the two peoples together would be cultural as well as economic - more te reo fluency, and better integration of treaty principles into everyday life.

Bridges, the first Māori leader of a major party (sorry Winston), has brought his party back to Waitangi after a few years out in the cold.

His speech at Waitangi was much better than an earlier version attempted at Ratana, where he tried to tie the issue of cannabis decriminalisation to Māori.

At Waitangi, Bridges emphasised the work his party was doing out of Government on policy that might help Māori, without attempting any cheap political hits.

His image as a prime-minister-in-waiting is very slowly coming along.

In the media standup afterwards, the challenge for National of holding onto an older Pākehā centre-right vote while appearing progressive on Treaty issues became more apparent.

Bridges reiterated his aspiration to settle all Treaty claims by 2024. He said he was keen to see the treaty relationship move from one of "grievance" to something more productive.

This felt like an implicit promise to a Pākehā majority that these Treaty settlements would stop Māori complaining.

He then proceeded to both endorse and reject Brash's famous 2004 Orewa speech, which called for an end to "race-based privilege" for Māori, and saw National's poll numbers shoot up in populist agreement.

Bridges said he agreed with the general idea of the speech - equal treatment for everyone - but not the nuance of it: he argued that Māori-targeted funding actually fitted into this framework perfectly, as it was still needs-based.

This was quite a tightrope to walk.

With both leaders attempting to move Waitangi Day into a calmer space, with less bare-knuckle politics and more lovely photo opportunities, you might think the holiday is on the verge of being changed forever.

But Waitangi Day will always be political, always be more than simply a day to celebrate being a Kiwi.

It will always, rightly, be a day suited to protest. The tensions beneath the surface here cannot be wiped away by one prime minister, one Government, or even one Provincial Growth Fund.

Ardern has had two good Waitangi Days in a row. Pulling off a third will require more than a barbecue.

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