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NZ PM Luxon rules out Treaty of Waitangi referendum

Ben McKay -

New Zealand's governing National party has abandoned any chance of a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi as a mighty Maori backlash continues to gather pace.

On Saturday, an estimated 10,000 people heeded the call of the Maori King to gather in the Waikato town of Ngaruawahia for a national meeting, or hui.

Kiingi Tuheitia called that summit in response to the new right-leaning government's plans for Maori, including rolling back Labour policies.

NZ's Kiingi Tuheitia, pictured with then Prince Charles in 2015, oversaw a Maori summit on Saturday. (David Rowland/AAP PHOTOS)

Since the hui, the National party has poured cold water on one such policy - a public vote to redefine the meaning of the treaty, signed in 1840 between Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown.

As part of the deals struck to take office, National agreed to support the introduction of a "treaty principles bill" by right-wing libertarians ACT.

That bill would see a redefinition of how the treaty is interpreted, ACT leader David Seymour says, to reflect New Zealand's modern-day status as a multi-ethnic liberal democracy.

Maori take a different view, arguing it white-washes them out of a place in their own country.

"This has left us feeling pretty bruised and attacked," University of Auckland Maori Studies professor Margaret Mutu told AAP.

In the days since the hui, Prime Minister Chris Luxon and his deputy, Nicola Willis, have both confirmed the party has no plans to support the ACT bill beyond a select committee.

"National agreed we'd support them to have a debate at select committee, but our position was we would not commit to the referendum they want ... and that remains our position," Ms Willis told Radio NZ.

ACT leader David Seymour, who will be deputy prime minister next year under the coalition deals, said he believed National might change its position.

"They have not ruled out supporting it further just as they have not committed to supporting it further," he said.

"That is not surprising - it would be unusual to oppose something before it was even written, let alone consulted on."

NZ Maori Development Minister Tama Potaka represented the government at a national Maori meeting. (Mark Coote/AAP PHOTOS)

Dr Mutu said Maori leaders at the Iwi Chairs Forum believed public consultations and hearings would be harmful even if there was no referendum.

"(Maori leaders) advised the government it would be quite damaging and divisive to allow it to go to select committee," she said.

Maori are organising to make their voices heard as NZ considers its constitutional makeup.

The huge hui turnout was acknowledged by the government's representative, Tama Potaka, the National party's Maori Development Minister.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything like that in my lifetime," he told Radio NZ.

"It was a marvellous show of mana motuhake (Maori self-determination) and kotahitanga (unity)."

The hui was one of three major Maori gatherings this summer where the government's plans for Maori will come under increasing scrutiny.

Another arrives on Wednesday when Mr Luxon leads the National party to Ratana, a branch of Maoridom based near Whanganui that hosts annual celebrations.

"If the government is performing well at Ratana (Maori leaders) will say so," Dr Mutu said.

"If the government is performing badly they will say so too."

It is unclear what reception Mr Luxon will receive given the tumult of the government's first few months.

While Kiingi Tuheitia called the national hui - the first in a decade - due to widespread concern about the new government, Mr Luxon has cast a summer of protest from Maoridom in a positive light.

"It's really an opportunity to come together as Maoridom and actually bring Maoridom together in a spirit of unity to align around what it is that they want," he said.

Ben McKay - AAP

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