Christopher Luxon has been criticised by Te Pāti Māori for not attending a nationwide hui called by the Māori King, as the PM says politicians are “not front and centre” at the event.
The political year began today when Luxon brought his MPs together in Christchurch for a party retreat. “Welcome back to work,” he said, hoping to keep attention on his 100-day plan, including 49 “deliverables” the Government has pledged to meet by March 8.
Instead, the focus has been expected to turn to Kiingi Tuheitia’s “national hui for unity” in Ngāruawāhia, near Hamilton, on Saturday.
Thousands of people are expected to descend on Tūrangawaewae Marae for the talks after the Māori King issued a royal proclamation – the first in a decade – for the event.
“We’re prepared for up to 7000 people… they’re down there right now packing all the lunch boxes,” Ngira Simmonds, the King’s chief of staff, told AAP.
“From North to South, iwi have been meeting over the last fortnight, distilling their key messages and we can’t wait to host them.”
The national hui has been called by the Kiingitanga out of widespread concern in Māoridom to the new Government’s approach to Māori issues.
Luxon won’t be joining them, instead dispatching Māori Affairs Minister Tama Potaka and Dan Bidois, another Māori MP.
“I’m very supportive of it. I think it’s a good idea,” the Prime Minister said.
“But it’s actually not for politicians. We are not front and centre in those conversations. It’s an opportunity for Māoridom to come together.”
Luxon himself met privately with Kiingi Tuheitia on Monday.
Simmonds told 1News yesterday: “We talked about te reo Māori and some of the policies and the direction that we’re seeing in the Government. It is of concern to the Kiingitanga.
“For us, we will speak te reo Māori and we will kōrero our reo, no matter what the decision or direction of any Government.
“And the Prime Minister was very supportive of that.”
He added of Saturday’s hui: “We are prepared to welcome all. No one will be turned away. If they do come, we would ask they come and primarily listen.
“We’re not specifically seeking the attendance of members of Parliament. Our particular focus for this hui is te iwi Māori.”
‘Lost opportunity’ – Te Pāti Māori co-leader
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said not attending was a “lost opportunity” for Luxon, three months into the job.
“I cannot think of a better opportunity to listen, learn and think,” she told AAP. “We’ll be there to listen. This could be a chance [for Luxon] to get to know his country better.”
Ngarewa-Packer’s party led rallies against the Government last month, when thousands turned out around the country to protest the coalition’s approach to Māori.
Deals signed by coalition parties National, ACT and New Zealand First agreed to dismantle the Māori Health Authority and to rethink the influence of the Treaty of Waitangi in law.
The backlash to these shifts has been significant to date, and could continue at Saturday’s hui, at next week’s Rātana gatherings – another significant Māori date – and then on Waitangi Day, February 6.
“This is an embarrassing time for the PM and he has to be really mindful that so many Māori didn’t vote for him,” Ngarewa-Packer said.
Hui could be a ‘moan fest’ – Shane Jones
New Zealand First deputy leader Shane Jones said the King’s hui could be a “moan fest” and urged Māori to give the Government time before passing judgment.
“Some people want to carry the ball of discontent or disinformation from there to Rātana to Waitangi,” he told AAP.
“Well, by our deeds shall they know us. We haven’t even put our first Budget together.”
While the Māori King had called the hui “out of concern for the Government’s plans”, Simmonds didn’t expect an altered course.
“If we’re realistic, we won’t see much change, they will stick to their agenda,” he said.
“What we will see is a significant part of New Zealand saying we disagree and coming together to as the voice of the marginalised to ensure they are protected.”
Back in Christchurch, Luxon gave a campaign-style speech to his caucus of 49 MPs, rallying them for the year ahead.
“New Zealand is under new management,” he said.
“If anyone asks us questions in three years time, I want them to say it’s a government that delivered.”
“We’ve got a huge year ahead of us. Let’s go to work and let’s get this thing done.”
Additional reporting by 1News