Bill English's Waitangi no-show 'not a sign of weakness'

Opposition leader Bill English will be about as far from Waitangi as you can get during commemorations tomorrow.

He'll be with South Island iwi Ngāi Tahu in Bluff.

Steven Joyce, who led the Opposition in Mr English's absence, said it's not a sign the leader is "running scared".

"Not at all. He is committed, as we all are, to having celebrations around the country as well as here."

As Prime Minister in 2017, Mr English chose to celebrate Waitangi at Auckland's Bastion Point with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei after he was denied speaking rights.

This year's celebrations in Waitangi have so far been unmarked by controversy. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is spending five days in the north, in an effort to build relationships with iwi.

Mr Joyce says National's decision to attend celebrations across the country has set "a more inclusive tone".

"I think that is one of the two innovations we've seen over the past two years that have seen a better temperament, a better tone for the celebrations, a more inclusive tone."

The second change Mr Joyce refers to is shifting the pōwhiri from Te Tii Marae to the meeting house on the Treaty Grounds - Te Whare Runanga. 

Earlier, Mr Joyce joked that his experience of Waitangi has been "more unique than most".  Mr Joyce had a run-in with a protester who threw a dildo at him in 2016. He spoke on behalf of the Opposition, and was in attendance along with a number of other National Party MPs.

Mr English said National welcomes progress being made at Waitangi.

"I am pleased it has been a positive day in Waitangi this year following changes to the official programme, including holding the welcome at the Upper Marae, and that the unnecessary controversies which have overshadowed celebrations in previous years were not present," Mr English said.


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