Bill English has decided not to attend because he is not being allowed to speak at the Powhiri, and thinks that the event’s controversies have made it unrepresentative and alienating towards New Zealanders.
The letter published in Stuff’s article shows the new arrangements that the Prime Minister objects to.
So, the committee has decided that the government’s Maori representatives speak at the powhiri on behalf of the Prime Minister, before allowing him to speak uninhibited after the powhiri’s conclusion.
In a way, English has been given a greater platform to talk about anything, whilst potential controversies have been greatly reduced. It is only unfortunate that the Prime Minister of NZ can’t speak at the powhiri. I totally disagree with the idea that the Prime Minister needs to have Maori representatives speak for him, regardless of what he would have said. It would be far better if the Prime Minister was allowed to make a short non-political speech at the powhiri, before being allowed to make the longer inhibited speech afterwards.
The comment in the Stuff article by Maori Party leader Marama Fox intrigued me: “His decision not to go was probably about avoiding being “embroiled in controversy” so early on in the job, she said.”
By choosing not to attend, English has created a new controversy, and would likely have been safer from controversy if he had simply attended.
This begs the question- why has he made this decision? The conditions granted to him aren’t good. He hasn’t avoided controversy, only created one.
The only explanation I can think of is this being some kind of election strategy to strengthen his leadership. Key and English have always been considered kinda centrist by those significantly further right. This decision may make him more appealing for them, the Don Brash types, building his support in the run-up to this year’s election. The moderates of the National Party base don’t really care either way when it comes to the Waitangi celebrations. By doing it under the guise of avoiding controversy, these types may be more supportive of it too.