Nicola Willis says Government 'committed to relationship that Treaty of Waitangi promises'

The political year has begun with headlines dominated by the response to the new coalition government's policies related to Māori.

More than 10,000 people gathered at Tuurangawaewae Marae on Saturday for a unified response to the coalition government's policies impacting Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, including opposing the ACT Party's moves to redefine the principles of the Treaty.

ACT party leader and Cabinet minister David Seymour told RNZ's Midday Report it was wrong to see Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a partnership between Māori and the Crown.

In response however, National MP and Finance Minister Nicola Willis told RNZ's First Up it was clear the Treaty of Waitangi established a foundational relationship between the Crown and iwi.

"It is our founding document as a nation. How that relationship works in practice is something that the courts have likened to being like a partnership," she said.

"The question then becomes well, what does partnership mean? And there's been a lot of debate about that through the courts, through Parliament, by different people with different views on that. From the government's perspective, our commitment is to honouring the Treaty of Waitangi. Honouring the settlements that have been made under that Treaty and continuing to progress better outcomes for Māori and non-Māori alike.

"We are not happy with where things are at. We want to do more to advance the quality of opportunity. We want to do more to deliver for Māori. And we're getting on with the work to do that.

"Our government is very committed to progressing results for Māori and we're committed to that relationship that the Treaty of Waitangi promises.

"We're going to uphold that, and we'll have the opportunities over the next couple of weeks to make that clear. The prime minister will be speaking at Rātana this week, and many of our ministers will be attending celebrations for Waitangi week up north as well."

At the nationwide hui on Saturday, Kiingi Tuuheitia said the world was watching and the government would be foolish to underestimate what te ao Māori was capable of.

"We need a way forward that brings kotahitanga to all of Aotearoa.

"The way forward needs to bring peace and unity for everybody."

The Māori and Green parties had said the prime minister should have attended the Kiingitanga's national hui, but Labour - whose leader also did not attend - brushed off concerns.

What's happened recently?

Last week, a draft memo was leaked from the Ministry of Justice about the government's proposed Treaty Principles bill.

Te Pāti Māori's co-leader Rawiri Waititi posted a screenshot of the leaked document on social media on Friday, saying it showed the government's "intentions to erase Te Tiriti o Waitangi".

While ACT defended the bill, National repeated its position of supporting it no further than select committee, while opposition paries said the prime minister should put a stop to it.

Willis confirmed National will not support its coalition partner ACT's Treaty Principles bill past the first select committee reading.

"This is an area where there have been concessions. Obviously, the different parties in the coalition have different policies that were a priority for them. For ACT, having a debate about the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi was a priority.

"In our coalition agreement, National agreed that we'd support them to have a debate at Select Committee, but that our position was we would not commit to the referendum that they want to see, and therefore we wouldn't commit to that bill going any further than Select Committee. That remains our position."

On Monday, Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka told Morning Report he understood it was a draft and he had not seen the full contents of the document.

"A debate about the [Treaty] principles is something that we do every day and how far we can go with the Treaty and its principles and where does it take us.

"My absolute focus is to acknowledge the Treaty as the foundational document at the start of this country ... past, present and future, it is fundamental to our nation. And ... there are a few things like Treaty settlements that continue to be unresolved and we need to address them."

He said the weekend's hui - which he attended - was a "marvellous show of mana motuhake and kotahitanga. I don't think I've seen anything like that in my lifetime."