Judith Collins on causing a stir at Waitangi: She came, she saw, she did not speak

On Waitangi Day, National Party leader Judith Collins finally got her wish of speaking from the mahau – the veranda of Te Whare Runanga at Waitangi – albeit only to thank the Lord.

Collins was among many who offered prayers and blessings at the Dawn Service on Waitangi Day.

It was Collins’ first time at Waitangi for Waitangi Day, and her first Waitangi Day as leader of the Opposition.

Like Clark in that year, Collins came, she saw, but she did not speak – other than that short prayer.

Nobody found out what she had come to say after she was prevented from speaking from that mahau during the pōwhiri for politicians at the Treaty grounds, because she was a woman.

So her first visit ended up embroiled in debate when Collins questioned whether that was right after the pōwhiri.

Collins was accused of failing to understand tikanga (custom), and Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson – who was also not allowed to speak – criticised her for raising it, saying that should be left to Māori women leaders.

Waihoroi Shortland had assured Collins that things would be different next year, but afterward Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene said that would be decided by the trust board later in the year.

When the Herald caught up with Collins before she left Waitangi, she said she did not regret raising her concerns about the issue despite the criticism she had fielded.

“I thought, the protocol for the day was this, that’s fine. Well, it’s not fine, but it is the protocol of the day and my view is that if I go into a church or a synagogue or any other place I’m going to follow the rules of that particular place.

“But that does not mean I should not be free to say ‘things do need to change’. When Simon Bridges came along, he was allowed to speak. Before that, every leader of the National Party was allowed to speak. Except women.

“We are in a time now when we have two women: the leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. And one can’t speak because she’s a woman? And that is not acceptable in my opinion.

“I’m not the one who sets the protocol but I am the one who can say what I think about them.”

She said she had spoken to some women leaders of Ngāpuhi before raising it, and they had wanted it raised.

“I was counselled to take a much stronger line, even, but I decided the best way forward was to respect the protocols we were given, and Dr Shane Reti would raise the issue.”

She also claimeda senior government MP had thanked her for it.

“She has to sit and not speak on her own marae, she said sometimes it takes someone who is looking in from the outside to raise an issue.”

Collins said had she spoken, she would have told those at the marae that National had met the two challenges that the speakers at Waitangi had given them last year: one was to develop policies to address dental health for young people, and the second was to stand in the Māori seats.

National had fielded a children’s dental health policy in the campaign, and in the lead-up to Waitangi Collins announced that in 2023, National would stand in the Māori seats for the first time in about 20 years.

Collins said the party’s wider position on the Māori seats was that it would only remove the seats if Maori decided they should go.

“We do not have a position to abolish the Māori seats, and that’s long been the case.”

The party’s position has moved over the years, from abolishing the seats under former leader Don Brash, to removing them once Māori say they no longer need them. After 2008, the party’s position on abolishing the seats was put on ice while National governed with the Māori Party. It remained in the freezer until Collins’ announcement.

Collins had turned up to Waitangi after an election result that meant National had just two Māori MPs to Labour’s 15. Those two are deputy Shane Reti and Simon Bridges.

Asked if it needed to look at its selection processes, Collins said it had delivered strong diversity to National in the past among Asian, Pasifika and Māori. National has never fared well in the party vote in Māori seats, but Collins was confident high quality candidates would put their names up.

Collins openly admitted she was not as comfortable in Māori settings as Pasifika, but she was taking advice from a range of people. Her adviser at Waitangi was Tu Williams, and she also spoke to Reti and former MP Harete Hipango. Hipango is the next on National’s list to get into Parliament if a list MP leaves.

She had enjoyed her couple of days, despite the brouhaha over the speaking. She met Ardern’s daughter Neve at the Beat the Retreat and had a chat to Titewhai Harawira at the pōwhiri.

“I said to her, ‘you’re looking very angelic today, Titewhai. But I know you’re not an angel, because you’re a wahine toa’.”

It was Harawira’s arguments as to why Helen Clark should be allowed to speak at Te Tii Marae when Ngāpuhi’s own women leaders could not that reduced Clark to tears in 1998.

She was the leader of the Opposition then. Four years later, Harawira escorted her back on to Te Tii Marae as Prime Minister.

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