Waitangi: Christopher Luxon calls NZ's founding 'little experiment', Chris Hipkins describes it as 'bold, visionary decision'

National Party leader Christopher Luxon has defended his description of the founding of New Zealand as a "little experiment".

Luxon made the comment during the parliamentary pōwhiri on the paepae of Te Whare Rūnanga at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Sunday. He was one of several political leaders to lay out their view on the progress New Zealand has made since 1840 - and where to go from here.

In his speech, which began in te reo Māori before moving into English, Luxon said the promises and obligations made in the Treaty haven't always been upheld by the Crown. 

He also praised the Treaty settlement process, saying settlements should be full, final and last forever. Luxon wants to see settlements finalised by 2030.

"I think our experience over the last 183 years should give us tremendous confidence that we can and will do well in the world. In the last 183 years, we have got many things right.

"We started on February 6, 1840 as a little experiment, and look at us now, a 21st-century success story able to tackle the challenges that come our way."

Asked later what he meant by calling New Zealand's founding as a "little experiment", Luxon said every country's birth is an experiment.

"We start off with great ambition and we go on a journey together over the 183 years, and we've built a country that we should be incredibly proud of," he said. 

"Now out in the 21st century, we can do amazing things. It all started because of some conversations to agree to work together in partnership and to build a country where actually all New Zealanders can do really well."

He said the remark wasn't meant to belittle the significance of the Treaty.

"I think we should be incredibly proud about New Zealand. We have one of the oldest, longest-serving democracies. We have taken the best from both worlds to actually build and fashion a country here that we're incredibly proud about. 

"We now sit in the 21st century able to go forward because of that strong foundation. Those are things I don't see in other countries around the world. That's something to be very proud of, very special."

Political leaders arriving on Sunday.
Political leaders arriving on Sunday. Photo credit: Newshub.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins also spoke from the paepae, acknowledging that in the time since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, there has been too much misunderstanding and too many broken promises. 

Afterwards, Hipkins was asked what he made of Luxon referring to the signing of the Treaty as a "little experiment". The Prime Minister said he would describe it as a "bold and visionary decision". 

"It was a decision to try, in effect, living together without conquest. In reality, if you look at the history that's followed since then, there was too much conquest or too much conflict. But the objectives, the vision, the goals were very noble ones."

During the pōwhiri, Ngāti Hine elder Waihoroi Shortland reflected on politicians' acknowledgements of "how over these 183 years, our nation has deviated from the promise of the Treaty".

"I am here today to remind you that I am in the very same place that we were 183 years ago and I haven't shifted, therefore I could not have deviated. The question remains, who was it that shifted? Who was it that moved away? Who was it that has been wandering in the wilderness?"

He said, despite that, we have "still managed to create a nation".

It was put to Hipkins that Shortland was suggesting it wasn't Māori who had deviated from the Treaty, but those on the other side, including parliamentarians, who had moved away from fulfilling the Treaty's promises. 

"There's no question that in the history of the Treaty, and since the Treaty has been signed, the Crown has egregiously breached some of the promises that were made and it is right that we go back and that we rectify this," Hipkins said.

The leaders' comments follow the release of the Waitangi Tribunal's Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) inquiry report. The tribunal found the Crown breached the Treaty's principles by proclaiming sovereignty over the North Island and other parts of New Zealand.

It recommended the Crown apologise, return all Crown-owned land in the north to local Māori, compensate, and work with Māori to determine constitutional processes and institutions that give effect to what was agreed in the Treaty.

Labour's deputy leader, Kelvin Davis, who is also the Minister for Te Arawhiti-Māori-Crown Relations, said it is Ngāpuhi's position that it didn't cede sovereignty, but the Crown is still working its way through the report. That includes considering what the implications of it could be.

"I think that it's important that we work through the recommendations and see what the outcome is going to be." 

Te Pāti Māori told Newshub accepting the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal report is a bottom-line for the party, while ACT wants the recommendations to be rejected.