Co-governance, Three Waters on agenda as Chris Hipkins arrives for first major Waitangi event

The Prime Minister has arrived at the National Iwi Chairs Forum in Waitangi.

Hipkins, in his first visit to Waitangi as Prime Minister, was accompanied by a slate of ministers, including deputy Carmel Sepuloni, Kelvin Davis, Peeni Henare, Andrew Little and Stuart Nash. The Greens' ministers James Shaw and Marama Davidson were also there.

The forum is the first major Waitangi event for the Prime Minister, who is less than two weeks into the job. 

The forum provides an opportunity for Hipkins to hear directly from elected iwi chairs. Co-governance, Three Waters and climate change are expected to be on the agenda for discussion, especially after flooding in Auckland over the past week.

Raniera Kaio welcomed the ministers and their entourage to the event and paid tribute to the late Titewhai Harawira. He said her spirit remained in the room with the leaders. 

Henare responded on behalf of ministers. But media weren't in the room to hear comments from Hipkins.

Hipkins has previously said the Government needs to do more to explain what it is doing with regards to co-governance. He said it can mean different things in different situations.

Co-governance, Three Waters on agenda as Chris Hipkins arrives for first major Waitangi event
Photo credit: Newshub.

Also front of mind will be a recent Waitangi Tribunal report, which found Te Raki Māori didn't cede sovereignty to the Crown in 1840.

The nearly 2000-page document contains a number of recommendations, including that the Crown provides "substantial" compensation to Māori in the northern district, return all Crown-owned land in the area to Te Raki Māori, and determine constitutional processes and institutions that give effect to Tiriti rights.

Co-governance, Three Waters on agenda as Chris Hipkins arrives for first major Waitangi event
Photo credit: Newshub.

The Government announced on Friday morning a one-off $3 million investment to support the Waitangi National Trust Board with maintaining the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

"The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a taonga that we should protect and look after. This additional support will mean people can continue to embrace, learn about and enjoy the strands, stories and experiences of the treaty grounds and the history it represents," Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni said.

"It is critical we invest now to ensure the economic recovery of the region, while supporting one of Aotearoa New Zealand's most significant historic sites."

She said the grounds is a key tourist attraction for Northland.

"Tourism accounts for approximately 10 percent of the region's employment and approximately 7 percent of the region's GDP pre-COVID," she said.

"We also know that strong tourism in the regions means greater support for hundreds of businesses. Tourism spending in the region was in excess of $1.1 billion pre-COVID, and this is something we want to continue to grow and nurture."

Before COVID-19, Sepuloni said more than 113,000 people visited the grounds, including 10,000 students.

"It's clear that Waitangi is the Northland region's single greatest attraction which is why this investment will ensure the Trust are fully equipped to care for the Treaty Grounds for future visitors, students and generations to enjoy," the minister said.

"Cruise ships have started to return to the Bay of Islands, and visitor numbers are gradually starting to increase. Supporting the Trust will help them to make the most of the return of tourists and contribute to the Northland economy."

Hipkins will later visit Kerikeri for an announcement. On Sunday, the traditional parliamentary pōwhiri will be held on the upper marae, with the leaders of other political parties in attendance.

The Prime Minister's flight to Waitangi on Thursday night had to be turned around on the way to Kerikeri. It wasn't able to land at the airport due to bad weather, which has also delayed other iwi members, officials and journalists from getting to Waitangi.

"The plane had two attempts but we weren't able to land because of the fog," a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said. "We are just driving up [to Waitangi] now."