Waitangi Day 2020: Bishop burns National leader Simon Bridges for no-show at dawn service

The 180th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi began with the Bishop of Tai Tokerau making a joke about Simon Bridges' absence from the dawn service, drawing laughter from the crowd.  

The Rt Rev'd Te Kitohi Pikaahu kicked off the Thursday morning dawn service at Te Whare Rūnanga, or 'upper marae', by going through the morning's schedule and announcing who would speak. 

He said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would speak as well as the leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges - but Bridges wasn't there, and the bishop made a joke about how National MP Alfred Ngaro would speak instead. 

"There is a part that I need to give some explanation for, and that's where we have prayers for our nation on Waitangi Day... There are persons that are mentioned there, please allow me to give the clarification and information," the bishop said. 

"The custom does provide for a karakia or prayer from Members of Parliament in a variety of languages, beginning with the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, and the leader of the Opposition..."

He looked around as if trying to find Bridges, and paused before saying: "Alfred is named in the booklet so you just bump yourself up the ladder."

Bridges, leader of the National Party, said on Wednesday he had other commitments and wouldn't be staying on in Waitangi, after attending the politicians' welcome pōwhiri on Tuesday at the upper marae. 

The Prime Minister was asked if she had any thoughts on the Opposition leader's absence from the dawn service, and she said it's up to each political party leader to determine their own schedule. 

But Ardern said she thinks the Waitangi Day dawn service is a good way to start the year and said she would like to return. 

The Bishop of Tai Tokerau Rt Rev'd Te Kitohi Pikaahu speaking at the dawn service.
The Bishop of Tai Tokerau Rt Rev'd Te Kitohi Pikaahu speaking at the dawn service. Photo credit: Newshub

Bridges was criticised for his speech at the marae on Tuesday by other MPs who said it fell short, such as Labour's senior whip Michael Wood who described it on Twitter as the "most poorly judged political speech" he had ever seen.

The National Party leader defended his speech on Twitter, saying: "I may not have trotted out proverbs and platitudes but I made the case for why a [Government] I lead will deliver for all [New Zealanders]."

The dawn service at Waitangi began at 5am with a welcome from Pita Tipene, chairman of the Waitangi National Trust Board, followed by the bishop who said the marae had become a "symbol for generations to come". 

The Prime Minister's prayer said: "Pray for those in need, the poor, the sick - those who suffer prejudice and the lonely... make us better people who look after all our brothers and sisters.

"At this place, on this day, may we unite in kindness and care towards one another." 

PM Jacinda Ardern speaking at the dawn service.
PM Jacinda Ardern speaking at the dawn service. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

National MP Alfred Ngaro delivered a prayer in Māori, followed by Defence Minister Ron Mark who said a prayer from Psalm 23, which he said servicemen are read before they are deployed.  

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson also delivered a prayer in Māori, and ACT leader David Seymour said there is "nothing quite like Waitangi". 

Seymour described it as "part ceremony, part conversation, sometimes a bit of conflict, and sometimes rambunctious and petulant - but you have to forgive the politicians". 

He said what it tells us is that "we are on a unique journey as a nation - two peoples from exact opposite sides of the world working through our problems to a better tomorrow". 

"It makes me proud to be a Kiwi, to share this country with all of you - let's wish our country a happy birthday as we enter our 180st year."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush thanked iwi for their partnership and cooperation with the police, while Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said a prayer in Māori, English and Cantonese. 

The PM's Waitangi Day sausage sizzle.
The PM's Waitangi Day sausage sizzle. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The morning wrapped up with the Prime Minister hosting her sausage sizzle breakfast on the Waitangi Grounds with other MPs.