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Opinion: Did huge TPP protests force Key to re-think Waitangi?

Friday 5 Feb 2016 8:13 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key (Graeme Mulholland)

Prime Minister John Key (Graeme Mulholland)

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Did John Key just snooker Te Tii marae and the TPP activists? Yes is my answer. Although it could be described as an own goal too.

Some have suggested Key is running scared but most of NZ won't buy that.

In short, John Key really had no option but to pull the plug on Te Tii marae after being told he couldn't speak about politics and the TPP on the lower marae today.

It's plain ridiculous telling the Prime Minister he can't speak politics. It's what he does.

Whatever the proper protocol is, the message all week from Ngāpuhi has been confused, mixed, inconsistent and, at times, aggressive.

For every person who said he was welcome, another told him he'd be met and blocked by brute force. For every person who said he could talk openly, another said he couldn't. A PM can't operate like that.

Yet, Key was quick to criticise Helen Clark when she refused to go to Waitangi so he had to get in a game of cat and mouse with Te Tii -- he had to find a way to blame them, and the marae and Ngāpuhi walked into the trap.

So he's not going. But here's my nagging question: I wonder if the real reason is because of the size of the TPP protest in Auckland yesterday. I wonder if it surprised his office and made them re-think.

Perhaps his security staff told him they would struggle to guarantee his safety. Perhaps the depth of feeling against him and this deal is the real reason he's pulled the pin.

Which is a shame because without the Crown and PM at Waitangi the show has little punch.

But it just goes to show how unpopular the TPP is amongst Māori, especially.

However, I would make this observation: why didn't Māori make a song and dance like this when Labour signed the massive free trade deal with China in 2008?

Truth is, they were nowhere to be seen.

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