Labour's snubbing by forum rankles

While claiming a warm reception at Te Tii Marae yesterday, Labour was snubbed by those at Maoridom's top table, who were meeting the Government nearby.

In a day relatively free of the drama which has marked previous pre-Waitangi Day events, David Cunliffe said he and his colleagues were given a ''heart-warming'' welcome during his first visit to the marae as Labour leader.

Down the road, Prime Minister John Key and senior ministers met the Iwi Chairs Forum at its annual Waitangi conference.

Outside Te Tii Marae, Mr Cunliffe said: ''Strangely enough we haven't yet had an invitation''.

''That's a very interesting state of affairs because most leadership groups at least try to pay lip service to bipartisanship in an election year.''

Labour Maori affairs spokesman Shane Jones was more forthright, likening it to a whakapohane or ''bare-arsed snub''.

''It's unfortunate that their treatment of the next government is in this vein. They will find that snubs are often found on a two-way street.''

Te Runanga a Iwi o Ngapuhi chairman Sonny Tau, who is also chairing the Iwi Leaders Forum this week, said it was the forum's policy to talk only to the Government at the Waitangi meeting.

''The issues we raise can only be addressed by the government of the day.

''If we invited Labour we'd have to invite every political party across the spectrum and we don't have time to do that.''

Mr Key said his message to the iwi leaders was that ''if you look at the progress and achievements of this Government in the last five and a bit years we can point to a very strong track record'' on Maori issues.

Mr Key will again speak to the iwi leaders today, when he will underline his Government's record on completing Treaty of Waitangi settlements, a message of significance to host Ngapuhi, which is close to reaching a deal.

''We've been on a rapid train of progress. It's working well.''

During his visit to Te Tii earlier yesterday, which he said was the calmest in many years, Mr Key challenged Joel Bristow, a representative of an anti-deep sea oil drilling hikoi, which had delayed his entrance.

He later said he challenged Mr Bristow to ''come to Wellington, spend a week with my ministers and their ministries. If at the end of that week you're proved to be right in the assertions you're making I'll join your protest, but if you're proved to be wrong go back and tell the protesters''.

Yesterday, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei become the first female political leader to speak at the marae.

''It was an incredible honour and a little scary'', she said afterwards.

Former Labour prime minister Helen Clark was given the opportunity to speak several years ago but was shouted down by protesters.

''I think I was given this honour because the Green Party has had such a consistent commitment to Maori issues,'' Mrs Turei said.

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