Prime Minister Hipkins welcomes less politics, more commemoration on Waitangi Day

People holding a
People holding a "Honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi" sign at Waitangi. Photo: Jane Patterson/RNZ News

RNZ News

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has described today’s Waitangi Day dawn service as moving and says he welcomes the shift away from a focus on politics.

Hundreds of people gathered before dawn to commemorate 183 years since Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed.

Hipkins said the national day had a greater focus on reflection and celebration than years ago.

The criticism that politicians had come to Waitangi in the past and used Māori as a way to increase their votes was a fair one, he said.

Hipkins said he saw his role as lighting the path forwards and not playing in the uncertain space where politicians could create fear and division.

“I think Māori have often been used as a way for politicians to whip up votes in other parts of the population and that’s something that I find abhorrent.”

Trend for less politics
Asked to compare this year’s Waitangi commemorations to previous years, Hipkins said in the last five years there had been a trend for less politics on Waitangi Day.

“I think there’s been a trend in the last five and a half years or so . . . for a bit less politics on Waitangi Day and a bit more reflection and a bit more commemoration and a little bit more celebration and I really welcome that.”

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins speaking at Waitangi.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins talking to the media at Waitangi today. Image: Jane Patterson/RNZ News

Hipkins said he first attended Waitangi commemorations at Waitangi about 15 years ago and overall he had always found it “to be a pretty positive experience”.

As prime minister his role was “to try and preserve a sense of unity and common purpose,” Hipkins said.

“It’s easy to create division when it comes to race relations and we’ve seen that in the past; governments have tried to to avoid that, it tends to have come from those who are not in government who are trying to get into government and I think that’s most unfortunate.”

National Party leader Christopher Luxon said New Zealand was an intelligent country that could engage in proper debates.

“I think what I’ve seen in reaction to some of our positions, say on co-governance, is you end up with some lazy sort of baseless accusations of racism frankly,” he said.

“Because that’s not what I’m doing, I’m having a conversation to say I’m interested in the ends of advancing all Māori and all non-Māori . . .  the means by which I do that may be different.”

The fact that National does not support co-governance of public services should not be misinterpreted as the party lacking ambition or aspirations for Māori in New Zealand, he said.

Open discussion needed
A lot of New Zealanders were scared to talk about the treaty and our history, we needed good honest relations to take place, Hipkins said.

“We have to create sort of safe spaces for people to say what they think. I think we get into dangerous territory when people stop saying what they think because they’re worried what the response to that might be and then you just perpetuate misunderstanding.

“I think when you create an environment where people can say what they think and other people can challenge that and people don’t have to feel offended or confronted by that.”

The signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi was a bold vision, Hipkins said.

“If we go to the spirit of what they were trying to accomplish, I think they were trying to accomplish an ability for us all to live here together, to all prosper together without conflict.”

The goal of the treaty was to try to avoid the conquest and conflict that occurred during settlement of some other countries during the mid-1800s, he said.

The history of Aotearoa shows this attempt was somewhat limited and conquest and conflict still followed, Hipkins said.

But the goal was a very noble one and the ongoing importance of the treaty recognises that it was a goal that was worth striving for, Hipkins said.

‘You just can’t beat . . . hearing the diversity’ – Tipene
Last year covid forced the cancellation of the dawn service and other official Waitangi events.

Waitangi National Trust Board chair Pita Tipene was asked what it was like to have to the events back on, and the crowds back at Waitangi.

“I think when people say he aha te mea nui o te ao, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata, when I was here with my mokopuna last year and we were the only ones here due to covid, and we had our own karakia.”

“Funnily enough, it was a similar bleak sort of a morning.

“You just can’t beat having so many people, a throng of people, hearing different voices, hearing the diversity, but feeling the unity that everybody is seeking.”

History was also made this today with the delivery of the first Muslim prayer at the dawn service, from Labour MP Ibrahim Omer.

“We look at Te Tiriti of Waitangi as being between Māori and European or Pākehā, but we really need to be thinking much, much more of the other ethnicities in our country that make up a multicultural tapestry of our nation,” he said.

“How we view it is that we have tangata whenua, or people of the land, and tangata Tiriti, which is the broad application of all people who have come here over time.”

Luxon defends ‘little experiment’ statement
Luxon spoke at Waitangi yesterday, but missed the dawn service today, instead opting to go to an event at the Takapuna Boat Club in Auckland.

One part of Luxon’s speech yesterday 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.”

Today, Luxon clarified that he did not mean to say that the treaty was an experiment.

“What we’ve done here in New Zealand is incredibly special, I mean if you think about the goodwill of those people who were here negotiating that treaty, it was unprecedented in many ways.”

Looking at what happened in other countries and how they have developed over time the treaty that had been done in New Zealand was incredibly special, he said.

“So it was a brave experiment to set up a treaty as a foundation for a whole new country, that didn’t happen if you think about it pre-1840 around the world.”

The intention was great, but the Crown did not honour its obligations and that was what a lot of New Zealand’s modern history had been about in terms of trying to deal with that issue, Luxon said.

Treaty settlements, Ngāpuhi and rangatiratanga
Asked about the concept of rangatiratanga, or the right of Māori to rule themselves, Hipkins said he was comfortable with the notion of “by Māori for Māori”.

In education there had been significant expansion of things like kura kaupapa Māori and in health some progress was being made in a by Māori for Māori approach, he said.

“I think the government can be a better partner, we can have a better relationship, we can work together better when it comes to all things Māori.”

Hipkins said the Ngāpuhi settlement was likely to be one of the most complex and difficult to achieve, but it was important to continue to approach it “with good faith and good will”.

“We’ve still got a process that we’re going through, what I can provide assurance about though is that the Crown will approach that with good faith and we want to get a settlement, so that’s a pretty good starting point.”

Luxon defended National’s goal that all treaty settlements should be completed by 2030.

Having a deadline made a government focus on getting that job done, he said.

“Treaty settlements are full and final, I mean the individual settlements are full and final, not to be opened up and discussed again.”

He acknowledged that everyone had a lot of work to do in terms of digesting the latest Waitangi Tribunal report on the Ngāpuhi claim.

On rangatiratanga, Luxon said there was one sovereign state here in New Zealand and it was the government.

Equity and equal opportunity
Equity and equal opportunity were two concepts that politicians needed to spend more time talking about, Hipkins said.

“Equal opportunity doesn’t guarantee an equal outcome, but equal opportunity also in itself isn’t necessarily equity because if you’re starting from a very different place then the opportunity in front of you might be the same, but your ability to take up that opportunity might be vastly different.”

For example, a child who starts school and already has a good base of education will be ahead of a child starting school with no education base, Hipkins said.

So treating them exactly the same in the classroom is not equity, although it might be equal opportunity, he said.

To try and address this in the education sector the government had just changed the way schools were funded to allow targeted additional funding to schools with equity challenges, and the same would be done for early childhood centres, he said.

National rejects co-governance of public services
Luxon said National was very supportive of co-management arrangements and it had led to better outcomes.

“But when it comes to the provision of national public services, from a government that’s accountable to all New Zealanders, and those services are designed to deliver to people in need, we think the better way is to have a single system of delivery.”

But there could be innovation within that system to ensure services were being delivered to those communities that needed it, he said.

Luxon said he was focused on outcomes which were targeted on the basis of need which could be delivered through many organisations which would do a much better job than central government would.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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