ACT leader David Seymour expects Waitangi events will be ‘tense’

David Seymour

ACT leader David Seymour says he expects the atmosphere will be tense at this year’s Waitangi Day commemorations.
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT leader David Seymour says he expects Waitangi commemorations will be “more tense” than usual this year.

Seymour is the architect of the Treaty Principles Bill that proposes to rewrite the treaty principles before putting them to a public vote.

The legislation is staunchly opposed by many Māori leaders, who have warned the government communities will mobilise if the treaty is altered.

Seymour will publicly front this criticism at Waitangi in a week’s time, where he expects the atmosphere will be intense.

“I think based on the comments that some people have made it will be more tense than other years,” Seymour told reporters at the weekend.

Waitangi Day has a long history of political protest.

In 1998, Helen Clark was reduced to tears after a veteran activist objected to her speaking on the marae.

Six years later, Don Brash had mud thrown at him in the fallout of his infamous Orewa speech.

And in 2016, a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) protester threw a rubber dildo at Steven Joyce’s face.

Waitangi National Trust Board chair Pita Tipene said protest action had been around as long as the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed.

“We’ve got to remember that there was protest on the day and there has been a great deal of unhappiness, frustration and anger over the promise that was Waitangi and has been foregone or dishonoured since then.

“So it should come has no surprise that people have found Waitangi to be the place to express all of that frustration and anger but we’ve also got to remember that Waitangi is a place where there is a great deal of fantastic, proactive things happening, particularly around having discourse, debate and conversation around Te Tiriti o Waitangi and what it means for this country going forward.”

Seymour has advocated for a public debate about the Treaty of Waitangi but did not engage with the national hui or Rātana celebrations earlier this month.

In a speech at the weekend, he criticised Māori leaders; telling them to ask themselves if they were dealing with issues responsibly or “inciting baseless racial resentment”.

“Don’t say, or even hint, that there will be violence if you don’t get your way. These arguments pave the road to division. Take those arguments off the table and try dialogue like adults.”

Tipene said there would be plenty of time for talking at Waitangi commemorations in a week’s time.

The kaupapa (topic) of this year is ‘Toitu He Whakaputanga, Toitu te Tiriti’ – that translates to ‘honour the declaration of independence, honour the treaty’.

Tipene does not anticipate any protest action like years gone by, but said anything could happen.

“I would doubt it very much but as I always say, always expect the unexpected. We’ll be very vigilant to keep our visitors and ourselves safe.”

The Waitangi National Trust Board is expecting a record 50,000 visitors over the week leading up to Waitangi Day.

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