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Heckles and boos for New Zealand government at Waitangi

Ben McKay -

Maori leaders have chastised the New Zealand government amid raucous scenes at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds ahead of the country's national day.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters bit back at a hostile crowd, telling one to "get an education" and "get some manners" as he was heckled.

The leaders of all three parties in the coalition government travelled to fabled treaty grounds in the far north on Monday for a public meeting, or powhiri, with Maori leaders.

After a summer of protest at the government's plans for Maori, the atmosphere was tense, with a rowdy crowd of several thousand packed in to hear the ministers speak.

Prime Minister Chris Luxon disappointed them by reading a campaign-style speech which sidestepped the main issue: a controversial plan to redefine the legal principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

"The Treaty is our past, present and future," he said.

"This Waitangi Day, I renew this government's commitment to helping all New Zealanders, Maori and non-Maori, get ahead."

Other ministers, Mr Peters and ACT party leader David Seymour included, tackled the issue head-on.

Mr Peters attacked those who fear-mongered over the government's plans.

"Whoever said we're getting rid of the Treaty of Waitangi? Who?" he implored.

"Stop the crap. Stop the nonsense. Stop the hysteria.

"Some of us were out here before you were born, fighting for Maori land rights ... so we aren't here to apologise."

Crowd members responded by booing, while some heckled and others walked away.

Another man flashed his penis to the government, which Mr Luxon said he didn't see.

The right-leaning government has policies to roll back use of the Maori language, and incentives to learn it, to disestablish Maori-specific public services, and most controversially, redefine how the Treaty of Waitangi impacts law.

In recent weeks, Maori have staged a national day of protest, and rallied around a once-in-a-decade Royal Proclamation from the Maori King for a national gathering for unity.

Monday's gathering, an annual ritual where politicians travel to where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 in the far north, was always likely to be a flashpoint.

The local Maori tribe, Ngapuhi, gave Mr Luxon a spirited welcome, with haka and waiata, or Maori song.

When the powhiri began, speakers challenged the government to reverse course.

"Our sneaky strategy is to say it time and time and time again in every forum so that it catches your conscious and subconscious: that is to protect the Treaty of Waitangi," Rahui Papa said.

Hone Harawira, a former Maori Party MP, arked up the crowd with a fiery address saying the government wanted to strip Maori culture away.

"You want to gut the treaty ... hell no," he said.

"To belittle (the Maori language) and try to make it a second-class language in our land. It ain't going to happen."

He told Mr Seymour that "you and your sh**ty ass bill are going down the toilet".

When Mr Seymour replied later, the crowd were so incensed with his speech they sang over him.

"You can sing, you can sing, you're not going to beat an idea by singing," he said.

"Let's have respect and let's have facts ... today I've heard people say we are spiders, that we are sandflies.

"Not even Donald Trump is calling his opponents sandflies. You should attack ideas not people.

"See you next year. We can't wait for the debate to continue," he said as he left the stage.

Mr Seymour advocates for New Zealand to abandon the treaty's principles of partnership, which has led to Maori yielding power over rights afforded to them in the treaty, so that all Kiwis have the same rights.

Waitangi National Trust chair Pita Tipene offered an apology to government speakers for the crowd's actions, which he said was "very unfair".

He was among those disappointed by Mr Luxon's failure to engage with treaty issues.

"There was a focus on outcomes and action, which is good, but we're here at Waitangi and we needed to talk about the Treaty of Waitangi more," he said.

Ben McKay - AAP


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