Kei aku Rangatira e pai nei, tēna koutou
Nau mai haere mai ki Kororāreka
Kia ora tatou katoa.
Greetings to you all and welcome to Russell.
I am delighted to welcome you to this beautiful and historic region in Aotearoa New Zealand and to welcome back those of you who have been here in previous years.
I also offer a special welcome to the non resident Heads of Mission who have travelled here from overseas. I hope that you enjoy your time here and that you are able to visit us again.
This region is where our nation had its beginnings, so I am pleased that you have this opportunity to come here and learn about our Treaty partnership. Our nation’s founding document is fundamental to an understanding of Aotearoa New Zealand and what we stand for today.
This little town was originally called Kororāreka and it’s an appropriate venue for an international gathering, given its history. Our very first capital was close by, at Okiato, until Governor Hobson shifted it to Auckland in 1841.
In the early 19th century, the bay in front of us would have had ships at anchor, flying the flags of various nations.
Here, onshore, taverns would have been full of sailors and whalers who had come ashore to eat, drink and be merry.
Unlike today’s gathering, they weren’t the most upstanding of people, and things often got out of hand. Violence and disorder went unchecked as there was no civil authority to impose order.
Hence why this little township was described as the hell-hole of the Pacific.
Law and order was certainly one of the motivations for British moves to establish a colony in New Zealand, with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between a representative of Queen Victoria and Māori chiefs in 1840.
However, it didn’t take long for Māori to become disillusioned with the Treaty, following repeated breaches of its terms and its spirit by the new colonists and the Crown.
Here in Russell, that dissatisfaction was expressed with the felling of the British flagpole up on Maiki hill at the end of the town. A local chief, Hone Heke, and his supporters chopped it down four times in 1844 and 1845. At that point the British gave up replacing it.
In 1858, Ngapuhi raised the funds to erect a replacement flag-pole, as a gesture of peace and goodwill.
They invited the Governor, Thomas Gore Browne to its unveiling, but he declined, perhaps concerned that it might be promptly cut down again.
Two years ago, 160 years later, the invitation was extended again, this time to me.
I was delighted to accept and thereby play a part in formally recognising an important symbol of reconciliation.
Governors-General have a special relationship with Māori that dates back to the signing of the Treaty by our first Governor, Governor Hobson, as representative of Queen Victoria, and Māori chiefs.
That relationship underpins my yearly visits to Waitangi and indeed my interactions with Māori communities around New Zealand.
It’s a relationship that I cherish, along with the principles that underpin our Treaty.
Every relationship demands commitment and effort. As you will be aware, when it came to the Treaty, successive Governments did not keep their side of the bargain, ignoring or flouting their commitments to Māori.
These breaches were precipitating causes of the New Zealand land wars of the 19th century. These conflicts were followed by government confiscation of many traditional land-holdings, leading to hardship for generations of Māori.
In recent years, Māori have sought and received a modicum of redress for those breaches. There is greater commitment by Government to act in good faith and uphold the principles of the Treaty.
An effective Treaty partnership gives us in New Zealand our best chance to address the pressing issues of today – whether it’s restoring and preserving the environment that sustains us, achieving equality of access to education, health services, and housing, or working with other nations on larger geopolitical concerns.
I see parallels with your work to build and maintain relationships across cultural, political and faith divides.
In these very challenging times, I thank you for all your efforts to maintain constructive dialogue and the fostering of friendship, goodwill and the wellbeing of all nations.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in the North.
No reira, tena tatou katoa.