Bill English to skip Waitangi celebrations

Prime Minister Bill English said he will not attend a pōwhiri at Te Tii Marae on February 5th or the dawn service on Waitangi Day on February 6th after he was not given speaking rights.

"The marae leaders have decided that the Prime Minister of New Zealand can't speak on their marae and that as far as I'm concerned is not respectful of the role".

Labour leader Andrew Little told Newshub it is "really disappointing" that Prime Minister Bill English will not attend Waitangi commemorations and in particular the dawn service on February 6th.

"He's a new Prime Minister, this was his chance to make his mark on the most important national day of celebration for New Zealand. To turn his back on it, on such an important day, I don't understand it".

"It is a day of unity for all New Zealanders, for Māori, for Pākehā, for all cultures and it is important that the Prime Minister be there and I'm surprised he's not going to be".

Bill English (Getty)
Bill English (Getty)

Mr English said earlier today "I think a lot of New Zealanders cringe a bit on Waitangi Day when they see the way that the ceremonies are being conducted, the type of protest that's been there in recent years and I'm pretty keen that we have a day where we're proud of it".

"I don't want to see Waitangi Day bogged down in the same kind of roundabout discussions that have become a feature of the arrangements at Te Tii Marae."

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett will attend the dawn service at Waitangi on February 6th.

Mr Little said "It's easy to get caught up in the shambles on what happens on February 5th, and some of the trustees don't seem to be able to  make up their minds about how things should be run. But he's the Prime Minister and he should look through that".

"Having a day of debate on the 5th of February as we historically have done, of course that stuff should be debated there. He shouldn't get defensive about it but what he should do is be there for the 6th of February".

Former Prime Minister John Key didn't go to Te Tii Marae in 2016, the first time he'd missed the annual Waitangi Day celebrations there.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark stopped attending Te Tii Marae on Waitangi Day after being jostled by protesters in 2004. In 2007 she said it was better she stayed away to prevent "incidents".

Mr English will still go to Waitangi, just not on Waitangi Day. He's accepted an invitation to lead a delegation of ministers to meet the Iwi Chair's Forum on February 3.

Waitangi Day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, an agreement between the Crown and iwi from around New Zealand, and is considered New Zealand's founding document.