Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson lays into National leader Judith Collins over Waitangi speaking pledge

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson isn't fazed about National leader Judith Collins promising to skip Waitangi in 2021 if she's not allowed to speak. 

"That'd be great if she didn't go. I think it's fine if she doesn't go," Jackson told reporters on Tuesday on his way into Labour's caucus meeting at Parliament. 

"My personal view is tikanga should evolve. I don't have a problem with that at all and I don't have a problem with women speaking on the pae.

"But we shouldn't change our tikanga because Judith Collins and Shane Reti are making a complaint about it because Judith knows very little about tikanga. This is not about tikanga for the National Party - this is just about them getting one up on us."

Collins told Magic Talk on Monday she would skip Waitangi commemorations next year if she's not allowed to speak alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.  

It comes as the Waitangi National Trust, which manages day-to-day operations of the Treaty Grounds and its commemorations, consults on whether there's an appetite for change in allowing women to speak.

At this year's Waitangi commemorations, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was allowed to speak at Te Whare Rūnanga, Waitangi's upper marae, but Collins was forbidden. 

Collins had to cede to her male deputy, Dr Reti, who is of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Hine descent. He used his speech to express disappointment that Collins couldn't speak because she's a woman.

Collins was given a commitment by Ngāti Hine elder Te Waihoroi Shortland that things would change next year. He said the speeches "would have been a whole lot more engaging" if Collins had been allowed to speak.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

But the promise came without any consultation. If the Waitangi National Trust concludes that women should not be able to speak on the paepae, Collins says she will not bother attending.

"I actually think the time has come for us to call this out," Collins told reporters on Tuesday. "It is not something I'm going to be accepting again and I don't think any political leader - certainly not the leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister - should have to apologise for their gender.

"And in addition to that, the mana whenua, the women - who are very strong women - who have prevented themselves from speaking on what is essentially the national marae, I think it's simply unacceptable. We have to change this."

Collins has the support of her Māori colleagues.  

"I clearly support the leader in this position," said Dr Reti. "We're very pleased that the Waitangi Trust has decided to take this issue into deliberations, but we'll wait for them to make their recommendations."

National MP Simon Bridges said Collins made the right call - "100 percent."

"I think we're in 2021. I think we have basic equalities for men and women and that means being able to speak on the marae when you're the leader of the Opposition," he said. "I think it's pretty basic, pretty fundamental, and the marae needs to move with the times."

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern said the decision sits with the Waitangi National Trust. 

"I'd like other political parties to be represented, but the way that's done, that's ultimately a decision for the Waitangi National Trust. I think they do a fantastic job of making sure that Waitangi Day is an exchange of ideas and opinions."

Collins denies she's threatening not to attend Waitangi given the potentially frosty reception she could receive after her criticism of the He Puapua report, which proposes a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040. 

"I expect it will be just as respectful as I always am when I invite people into my place," Collins said. "I've never been afraid to put my best foot forward."

Paradoxically, the He Puapua report was commissioned as a response to former Prime Minister John Key - Collins' old boss - signing New Zealand up in 2010 to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Jackson said he'll make an announcement regarding the United Nations Declaration next week. 

"You have to remember that He Puapua is something separate. That's a separate, independent paper. We are doing a number of things in He Puapua now with regards to what's happening in the country," he said. 

A Māori Health Authority and Māori wards in local councils, for example, were both recommended in the report and have been implemented by the Government. 

"I think New Zealanders don't have to worry," Jackson said. "For instance, I'm not someone who talks about a separate Parliament, although those sorts of recommendations need to be considered by Māori and by this country and we need to go through a process."