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New Zealand's Maori King calls for national unity talks

Ben McKay -

A day after protests across New Zealand at the new government's policies, the Maori King has issued a royal proclamation for a unity summit in the new year.

Leaders will gather for a "national hui" at Turangawaewae Marae, near Hamilton, on January 20 as Maoridom considers its response to the coalition's government's plans.

"There's strong opposition to the government's statements on the Treaty of Waitangi which could undermine decades of hard-fought justice and equality for our nation," Kiingitanga chief of staff Ngira Simmonds said.

Chris Luxon's new right-wing coalition government has created much angst among Maori for its plans to review the place of the Treaty of Waitangi within NZ's laws.

His administration has also begun issuing edicts cracking down on the use of te reo (the Maori language) in the public sector, and is ordering public bodies to use drop recently-adopted Maori names in favour of English titles.

Among many changes spelled out in the coalition deals, it has pledged to scrap dedicated health body the Maori Health Authority, set up by the previous Labour government to address inequities between Maori and non-Maori.

The government is against dedicated public services for Maori, which it labels "separatist", and has promised to deliver public services on the basis of need, rather than race.

This shift has borne out a massive constitutional and cultural tension, given the principle of partnership derived from the Treaty of Waitangi - New Zealand's foundational document, signed in 1840 between Maori and the British Crown.

Mr Simmons said the national hui aimed to start dialogue with the government in the spirit of partnership.

"It's a plea to continue to work with us. It's hard to see that manifesting in some of the plans at the moment," he said.

The hui and Maori-led national conversation will precede the government's introduction of a Treaty Principles Bill which aims to redefine how the treaty influences NZs laws and government.

Fearing the worst from these changes, about 5000 Kiwis took to the streets on Tuesday, including an estimated 800 in Wellington who marched to parliament on its opening day.

Those protests could kick off a summer of discontent among Maori, with the hui announced a fortnight before Waitangi Day, on February 6.

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi says he "would never" call King Charles an offensive name. (Ben McKay/AAP PHOTOS)

This week, Mr Luxon said he intended to travel to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for NZ's national day, which has seen major protests in years gone by, and is likely to again.

The Maori Party, a driving force behind this week's protests, has signalled similar movements are in the works.

Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer defended the use of musket imagery for the protests, saying it was a "symbol of our oppression".

"It's really important we don't try to whitewash our history ... thousands mobilised across the country and where there any dramas? did it end nicely?" she said.

Police reported two arrests from the protests.

The Maori Party also appears to have avoided sanction for a language shift during its swearing in on Tuesday, when they are required to pledge allegiance to the King of New Zealand, Charles III.

MPs Rawiri Waititi and Takuta Ferris both deviated from the script to call the King not "Kingi Tiare", the Maori language translation for King Charles, but "Kingi Harehare".

Harehare can mean either offensive, or a skin rash.

Mr Waititi insisted he meant to say "Kingi Hare", which is another translation for Charles, saying "I wouldn't ever call him" harehare.

Shane Jones, the NZ First deputy leader who called the Maori Party protests as "vanity signalling", told the NZ Herald he would ask for the Speaker to rule on their actions.

Ben McKay - AAP


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