National leader Judith Collins vows to skip Waitangi in 2022 if she's not allowed to speak

National leader Judith Collins has vowed to skip Waitangi commemorations in 2022 if she's not allowed to speak alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

"I want to make this very clear: I will not be attending Waitangi and not be given speaking rights if I am either in the role of Prime Minister or as leader of the Opposition," Collins told Magic Talk on Monday. 

"It is simply not acceptable. The moment we are judged solely on our gender is also the moment we give in to that and actually I'm not prepared to so that's my line in the sand. Either do it properly or don't bother."

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, according to Newsroom.  

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 Shane 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.

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

"At the last Waitangi Day this year I was advised that I would not be given speaking rights but the Prime Minister, who is also strangely a woman, would have them," she said. 

"I thought well, we'll go along this one time and we'll ask in a polite and reasoned way, and Shane Reti did that. I thought that was the right way to deal with it."

National leader Judith Collins pictured sitting next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Ngāpuhi elder Titewhai Harawira at the upper marae in 2021.
National leader Judith Collins pictured sitting next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Ngāpuhi elder Titewhai Harawira at the upper marae in 2021. Photo credit: Getty

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson laid into Collins over her speaking snub at Waitangi, saying the National leader did not possess the cultural expertise to understand. 

"One thing that Judith Collins does not uphold is the status of wāhine Māori outside of just speaking from the taumata [front row of speakers] and she does not have the cultural expertise to be able to acknowledge that wāhine Māori need to lead the discussion about what our roles are and where we put our voices." 

Ardern said the decision ultimately lay with the Waitangi National Trust. She was the first female Prime Minister to be given the right to speak in 2018 at Waitangi's upper marae after prolonged discussions. 

In her speech in 2018, Ardern said: "I do not take lightly the privilege extended to me to speak ... today, not only as a Prime Minister but as a wāhine."

In 2018, following ongoing politically-motivated protests at the lower Te Tii marae, all of the political talks were moved to the more neutral Te Whare Rūnanga.

In 1998, then-Opposition Labour Party leader Helen Clark was challenged by Ngāpuhi elder Titewhai Harawira at Te Tii marae about her rights to speak as a woman.

Clark became visibly upset and later vowed not to return to Waitangi Day celebrations unless she was treated with dignity and respect. In 2002, it was reported that Clark and Harawira had made peace with each other.

It wasn't until 2014 when women were allowed for the first time to speak at Te Tii marae, with then-Green Party co-leader Meteria Turei the first woman politician - 16 years after Clark's right to speak was challenged.