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New Zealand PM Luxon opts out of major Maori meeting

Ben McKay -

The New Zealand government's summer of discontent has resumed as Prime Minister Chris Luxon faces criticism for opting out of a nationwide gathering called by the Maori King.

The political year began on Thursday when Mr Luxon brought his National party's MPs together in Christchurch for a party retreat.

"Welcome back to work," he said, hoping to keep attention on his 100-day plan, including 49 "deliverables" the government has pledged to meet by March 8.

Instead, the focus was on Kingi Tuhetia's "national hui (meeting) for unity" in Ngaruawahia, near Hamilton, on Saturday.

Thousands of people are expected to descend on the Waikato town for the talks after the Maori King issued a royal proclamation - the first in a decade - for the event.

"We're prepared for up to 7000 people ... they're down there right now packing all the lunch boxes," Ngira Simmons, the King's chief of staff, told AAP.

"From North to South, iwi (tribes) have been meeting over the last fortnight, distilling their key messages and we can't wait to host them."

The hui has been called out of widespread concern in Maoridom to the new government's approach to Maori issues.

Mr Luxon won't be joining them, instead dispatching his Maori Affairs Minister Tama Potaka and Dan Bidois, another Maori MP.

"I'm very supportive of it. I think it's a good idea," the prime minister said.

"But it's actually not for politicians. We are not front and centre in those conversations. It's an opportunity for Maoridom to come together."

Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said not attending was a "lost opportunity" for Mr Luxon, three months into the job.

"I cannot think of a better opportunity to listen, learn and think," she told AAP.

"We'll be there to listen. This could be an chance (for Mr Luxon) to get to know his country better."

Ms Ngarewa-Packer's party led rallies against the government last month, when thousands turned out around the country to protest the government's approach to Maori.

Government deals signed by coalition parties National, ACT and NZ First agree to dismantle a national Maori health agency, to disincentivise learning the Maori language, and to rethink the influence of the Treaty of Waitangi in law.

The backlash to these shifts been significant to date, and could continue at Saturday's hui, at next week's Ratana gatherings - another significant Maori date - and then on Waitangi Day, February 6.

"This is an embarrassing time for the PM and he has to be really mindful that so many Maori didn't vote for him," Ms Ngarewa-Packer said.

NZ First deputy leader Shane Jones said the King's hui could be a "moanfest" and urged Maori to give the government time before passing judgment.

"Some people want to carry the ball of discontent or disinformation from there to Ratana to Waitangi," he told AAP.

"Well, by our deeds shall they know us. We haven't even put our first budget together."

While the Maori King had called the hui "out of concern for the government's plans", Mr Simmons said didn't expect he expected an altered course.

"If we're realistic, we wont see much change, they will stick to their agenda," he said.

"What we will see is a significant part of New Zealand saying we disagree and coming together to as the voice of the marginalised to ensure they are protected."

Back in Christchurch, Mr Luxon gave a campaign-style speech to his caucus of 49 MPs, rallying them for the year ahead.

"New Zealand is under new management," he said.

"If anyone asks us questions in three years time, I want them to say it's a government that delivered."

"We've got a huge year ahead of us ... Let's go to work and lets get this thing done."

Ben McKay - AAP


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