The prime minister and other political leaders have been welcomed on to Te Whare Rūnanga on the Upper Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.
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All parties except the Māori Party are attending, with their leaders choosing not to visit due to Covid-19 concerns.
Speaking to media this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged there remained significant social inequalities faced by Māori, but challenged the view her government had achieved little so far in addressing these.
She said there would always be challenges and that it was unrealistic to say there would never be a time where there was nothing to resolve.
Giving people “a seat at the table” to lead systemic change was key, Ardern said.
Reform of Oranga Tamaraki, under heavy scrutiny for systemic racism in the way it deals with Māori families, had been a case in point, she said.
“We’ve always been a government that says ‘we acknowledge our problems’. We will keep working on change to fix them. However, we also have to acknowledge that the way we have done things has sometimes been part of the problem too,” she said.
Reforms within Corrections, social housing projects and funding for health initiatives would in time bring real changes, she said.
“The idea that we haven’t achieved progress, I would challenge.”
During her speech, Ardern announced the first Matariki public holiday would be next year.
Environment Minister David Parker said the government had focused on tackling water quality issues with Māori groups so far but was now moving to address issues of inequitable water allocation this year.
Asked about recent revelations of big companies being able to dump industrial waste into waterways because of a drafting loophole making it difficult for local councils to reinforce environmental standards with legal sanctions, Parker said councils were not impeded legally.
“I’m not convinced that the law allows illegal discharges so I don’t really take that one at face value.”
He said the government had made moves to give councils more technical capacity to carry out enforcement duties.
“In respect of trade waste, the enforcement obligations lies primarily on councils. In order to encourage them to do what they ought to be doing, we have given some funding to the Environmental Protection Agency to stand alongside them and help them do that.”