Andrew Judd looks back on Waitangi

Former New Plymouth district mayor Andrew Judd was invited to speak at Waitangi this year. Taranaki Community News caught up with him to find out what the experience was like.

Receiving an invitation to speak at Waitangi on Te Tii Marae was without doubt an honour and privilege, but also a fantastic opportunity to continue the discussion and debate regarding Maori representation and the role that our Treaty of Waitangi / Tt Tiriti o Waitangi has for all New Zealanders in our time and tomorrow.

My invitation wasn’t without trepidation as I was to speak directly after Mr Don Brash and given I have already debated with Mr Brash I was well aware of the tension and polarisation that our differing views on our Treaty and New Zealand’s race relations would invoke.

The organisers of the event were well of of this but viewed this as an opportunity to engage with vigorous debate, and stated to me that the only way to move forward is to listen to each other, provide a space for those differences to be drawn out and there were other speakers in the mix (Treaty experts and Kaumatua ) an approach that I completely agree with. The plan was to put our views forward and follow with a Q & A from the floor.

This was to be my second visit to Waitangi, the first time was in my role as Mayor of New Plymouth in 2016. Then I was invited to address the iwi leaders forum – an experience that holds a certain place in my memory not just because of the privilege in addressing the iwi leaders but also because of the certain object throwing incident with Mr Steven Joyce a then Minister of Government.

This time, given the media hype that surrounded Mr Brash and his invitation to speak on Te Tii Marae it certainly added to my anxiety, particularly given that I was speaking directly after him.

My instructions were to assemble with the other speakers at the entrance of the Marae for a 1.00pm Powhiri.  Upon my arrival to Waitangi the day was beautiful with a deep sunny blue sky and a temperature that let me know I was well North of Taranaki. It felt like I was on vacation on some paradise island in such a beautiful part of New Zealand.

There were people everywhere, with a massive cruise ship in the harbour, para-gliders, Navy ships, speed boats and waka, those enjoying the festive atmosphere with the shops and cafes overflowing a real buzz in the air, then oddly that scene was broken with the occasional protest banner or groups of loud thumping motorcycles zooming past with their ” Man up” leather jackets, oh that’s right Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church was also in town.

As I approached the Marae I could see a scrum of TV cameras and media circling Mr Brash and as I waited at the rendezvous point I was approached by Maori TV wanting to get my take on the impending event and Waitangi Day in general.

Before too long we were getting called onto the Marae, and at that point no media where allowed in – which in some ways diffused the tension that was apparent in the faces of those observing, as if waiting for some kind Steven Joyce repeat. Thankfully it was all very calm with people stopping Mr Brash for selfies.

The official welcome was warm and polite with comments centered around respect and manaakitanga. The main speaking event was to take place after lunch in a large marquee on the Marae grounds. At a guess I would put the number of those within the marque at around two hundred. You could feel a nervous tension from those waiting to listen with jeers and comments at the very site of Mr Brash.

He was then duly invited to the lectern and begun to share his views regarding the Maori economy, some of his personal background and the value of Te Reo in modern society. At this point the heckling started to gain momentum and volume as his views and comments hit like daggers into the very heart of a culture and identity of those within the marque.

The organiser and MC called for calm and to give respect to an invited quest who has come to share his views, I couldn’t help but think that to speak so provocatively was never going to end without challenge and sure enough a small group appeared – one with a megaphone and others holding a banner.

The emotions and shouting started to escalate, and as much as the MC tried to control the crowd and talk the protesters down, they effectively put an end to Mr Brash speaking.

With what appeared mission accomplished by the objectors, Mr Brash took his seat on the stage. It was then my turn to speak. The audience, still riled from what just took place, started to ease.

As I calmly shared some of personal story and the challenges of Maori representation on Councils, I could hear heckling coming my way from those who had other views and were there in support of Mr Brash ,which is fair enough as we were there to share our views.

I must have spoken for twenty minutes when the MC decided to call for the next speaker and made the call to abandon the Q&A which in some ways was a lost opportunity.

I was followed by a couple of other speakers and then that was it. Mr Brash departed to the waiting media scrum and I was having loads of conversations with those from the marque, and at 5.30pm I was in my car for the return trip home.

Upon reflection its impossible to say if the event moved the debate forward in any tangible way – if anything it reinforced the journey we are all on as Treaty partners.