Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defends record at very sedate Waitangi

2019-02-05 21:30:04

It looked for a second like chaos was on its way to Waitangi.

After a very warm and sedate ceremony last year on the upper marae on the treaty grounds, two speakers who basically sweat controversial views were invited to speak on the lower Te Tii Marae this year: Don Brash and Brian Tamaki. Sparks were going to fly - right?

But on Tuesday both Brash and Tamaki arrived to little protest. Earlier that morning, a lone woman had started to scream at MPs as they gathered up the hill, reportedly upset they were meeting at the upper marae instead of Te Tii. She was quickly led away.


The most important speech of the day was again delivered from the porch of the upper marae by the prime minister.

In her speech last year, Jacinda Ardern specifically asked that she be judged on her record a year later.

"I ask you to ask of us what we have done. Ask us how we have given dignity back to your whānau, ask us what we have done to improve poverty for tamariki, ask us what we have done to give rangatahi opportunities and jobs, ask us, hold us to account. Because one day I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here and only you can tell me when I have done that," Ardern said.

Her speech this year acted as a response to that first speech, mentioning progress in many of the areas mentioned, in particular the families package, fees-free education, and falling unemployment. But every point was book-ended by the line "there is still more to do."

"Yesterday I talked to a child in Kaikohe who told me 'this year, this year I go to uni. And that is not something a child of a beneficiary is generally expected to do'. I'd like to think we might have made that possible by taking away that barrier to education with fees-free," Ardern said.

She also mentioned mental health - an area her Government will be putting a huge focus on in this year's budget as a response to their inquiry into the matter. A smattering of housing policies were mentioned, but KiwiBuild - which is currently being "recalibrated" after its interim targets were scrapped - was not mentioned.

"I am an optimist. I was born one, and politics has not beaten it out of me," Ardern said.

She also said simply ending the inequality between Māori and Pakeha would not be enough to truly honour the treaty - to bring the marae and Parliament together.

"This year has taught that we may make progress on inequality, we may reduce poverty, we may reduce unemployment. But there will still, for all of that, be distance between these two houses. Equality is our foundation, but it is not our bridge," Ardern said.

"Yes equality matters...but it will never replace a need to understand our shared history, our shared heritage, the culture of Aotearoa. Te Reo Māori - nothing will replace the need for that understanding - and on that, we still have more to do."

Ardern closed with a favourite Michael Joseph Savage quote she has been pulling out recently: "We do not claim perfection, but we do claim a considerable advance on what has been done in the past."

She elaborated on this with media following the speech.

"We have made good progress. But I am very hard to satisfy. So yes, we do have more work to do," Ardern said.


For the first time ever, all of the MPs at Waitangi walked onto the marae together as a group, with Ardern, Winston Peters, Simon Bridges, Marama Davidson, and James Shaw all advancing as one, with tens of their fellow MPs behind them.

The unity between the parties continued into the speaking, with the whole group singing a waiata when each speaker finished.

This sense of togetherness resulted in a lot of fairly non-political speeches from the politicians, the attacks more coded than usual.

Winston Peters didn't seem so happy with Simon Bridges when he described himself as the first Māori leader of a "major party". (Peters is Māori and does not see NZ First as a minnow.)

Instead of attacking the Government, Bridges simply sought to draw a contrast by explaining that his party wasn't "going to wait for Government" to get work done, laying out a policy programme to help Māori and others over the next year, with work on whanau ora, land reform, and charter schools. Bridges won't be able to enact any of this outside of Government this year - but it does help create the image of National as a Government-in-waiting.

He also said he doesn't believe the Government should be a "benevolent parent" to New Zealand but a partner - a hint at a critique of Labour.

Peters, who is known to hate the targeted Māori funding Labour ministers have now promised for the next budget, used his speech to briefly explain his vision of a Māori-renaissance.

"Government can only do so much. Māori - our culture and our people need a renaissance and revival, and we are the only ones who can do it," Peters said.

"We have got to see in our own selves the seeds of our success - nowhere else."


With former National Party leader Don Brash set to speak later that day, Bridges was asked what he made of Brash's 2004 "Orewa speech" - which called for an end to "special privileges" for Māori.

The speech saw National shoot up in the polls, but was criticised as racist at the time.

​Bridges said he agreed on the broader principle of ending special racial treatment but disagreed with Brash "on the nuance".

"I agree with the clear conception of that speech that we shouldn't be doing things on the basis of race - it should be need," Bridges said.

"Don sees that as very black and white. I think what it means is that Whanau Ora which is clearly targeted at Māori whanau is on the basis of needs, but it is doing it in a culturally appropriate way."

Speaking to media instead of the full audience Bridges was also much more trenchant in his criticisms of the Government.

He pointed to the increasing number of hardship grants as proof poverty wasn't declining, and said the Provincial Growth Fund had barely provided any jobs so far.

Bridges also said he was keen to see the treaty relationship move from one of "greivance" to something more productive - after all treaty claims are settled.

He has an "aspiration" for this to happen by 2024.

* Comments on this story are closed

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Katherine Rich left as a result of the 2004 Orewa speech. She in fact left as a result of the 2005 Orewa speech.

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