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Jacinda Ardern attends Rātana final event as Prime Minister

It is Ardern's last public outing as Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern's last public outing as Prime Minister at Rātana Pā. Video / Mark Mitchell

“The greatest privilege of my life.”

Those were Jacinda Ardern’s final words as prime minister today as she addressed the crowd at Rātana.

Ardern, on her last day in the top job, said it was not her intention to speak today “but you were not having a bar of it”.

The outgoing Labour leader acknowledged the importance of her being amongst Tangata whenua.

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Ardern said it was special and symbolic to be at Rātana for her last event as prime minister.

“Firstly, if you’re going to leave, I say leave with a brass band. And if you are going to leave with a brass band, leave with a brass band from Rātana.”

She then paid homage to her colleagues, saying to the crowd they are “in the best of hands”.

She said new Labour leader Chris Hipkins had earlier delivered “beautiful words”.

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An emotional Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins at Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell
An emotional Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins at Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell

“My friend Chippy.”

She highlighted Hipkins and incoming deputy prime minister Carmel Sepuloni: “You knew me as Aunty, I hope you know him as Chippy.”

Ardern confessed she was nervous when she announced she was pregnant with Neve, but said she felt welcomed when she came to Rātana afterwards, thanking members for the offer of the name Waru in 2018.

Ardern said her overwhelming experience in the job had been one of “love, empathy and kindness.”

“That is what the majority of New Zealand has shown to me.”

“For my part I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job has been one of love, empathy and kindness” - a nod to the abuse many had attributed to her departure from the job.

Hipkins addresses crowd

Hipkins began his address to the crowd at Rātana with a mihi in te reo Māori that drew applause.

Hipkins said he had been coming to Rātana for early 20 years, the first time in 2004 when Helen Clark was Prime Minister.

He said he had come not to speak but to listen, and be part of the celebration.

He spoke of the story connecting the Rātana founder with Michael Joseph Savage, and the four gifts he gave the then Labour Prime Minister.

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Those items were buried with Savage when he died.

Hipkins acknowledged the “turbulence” between Labour and Māori through the 2000s, alluding to the foreshore and seabed debacle.

Incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins during speeches at Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins during speeches at Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He referenced Ardern’s work with Māori and said it was an “honour” for him to continue that.

He paid credit to the party’s Rātana MPs, none more so than Speaker Adrian Rurawhe.

Hipkins said growing up in Upper Hutt in the 1980s as Pākehā he didn’t know much about Māori culture, and didn’t visit the local marae until he was an adult.

He was proud Labour had introduced a new curriculum to teach New Zealand history in schools, Hipkins said.

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Hipkins turned to the issue of co-governance, speaking of a park near where he grew up that was managed with Māori, where the facilities and the stream had greatly improved.

As long as the Labour Government was there, Hipkins said they would bring New Zealanders together, to move forward in spirit of unity.

He called out politicians that used co-governance to stoke fear.

Ardern tearful at Rātana in final day as PM - the advice she gave Hipkins
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was tearful, sitting alongside Speaker Adrian Rurawhe, after being welcomed onto Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was tearful, sitting alongside Speaker Adrian Rurawhe, after being welcomed onto Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Ardern is being farewelled at Rātana Pā today in her last public engagement in the country’s top job.

Ardern and Hipkins were earlier greeted by a huge crowd with many greeting them warmly with hugs and hongi.

Ardern said it was a special day watching her “colleague and friend” Chris Hipkins take over the mantle.

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Ardern tried to hose down talk about the impact that the anger and abuse hurled at her was a factor in her decision.

Asked how relieved she was, the outgoing PM said she wouldn’t describe it in that way.

“Whilst there’s been a bit of commentary in the aftermath of my departure, I would hate for anyone to view my departure as a negative commentary on New Zealand.

“I have experienced such love, compassion, empathy and kindness in the job. That has been my predominant experience. So I leave feeling gratitude for having this wonderful role for so many years.”

Asked what advice she had given Hipkins, Ardern said: “I couldn’t be specific, because there were two hours of reckons.”

She said it was for Hipkins to reveal. “But probably the most important advice I gave him was ‘you do you.’

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, flanked by Kiri Allan, right, and the Labour caucus are welcomed onto Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, flanked by Kiri Allan, right, and the Labour caucus are welcomed onto Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell

“This is for him now. It’s for him to carve out his space and be his kind of leader.

“There’s no advice I can really impart. I can share information, I can share experiences, but this is for him now.”

Ardern said she did not see Hipkins’ pledge to get Labour back to basics as a criticism of her government. “No, not at all.”

She said it was up to Hipkins to respond to Luxon, her speech would be more words of thanks. “You won’t find me commenting on domestic politics. I’ve had my time. It’s now for the new team.”

Ardern said people would still see her out and about as MP for Mt Albert until April, but she would not be part of the cut and thrust. Asked what she would miss. “I’m going to miss people. Because that’s been the joy of the job. So my only words are words of thanks.”

She said she was ready to be a backbench MP. “I’m ready to be lots of things. I’m ready to be a backbench MP. I’m ready to be a sister and a mum.”

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Labour deputy Kelvin Davis spoke about the misogyny directed towards female politicians and called on men to call it out.

Davis joked about what nickname Māori might give Chris Hipkins, known as “Chippy”, could be “Papa Tipe”.

Image 1 of 9: Welcoming party onto Ratana Marae. Photo / Mark MItchell

Che Wilson, Ngāti Rangi spokesperson, addressed the Prime Minister, saying “It is only right that we say thank you”.

Wilson also thanked Ardern’s family because “leadership is lonely”.

Wilson made a reference to NZ First leader Winston Peters, saying “a man” came to Rātana yesterday, warning Rātana two groups would come and make promises. He said today was about saying thank you to Ardern.

Peters visited Rātana yesterday but did not appear today.

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National’s Tama Potaka, who is still in the crowd, welcomed comments made by Wilson about the strength of advocacy for the local region in Parliament.

Wilson, after a waiata, said that in his role as deputy chair of one of the largest farms in the country, he supported Three Waters.

Kiingitanga spokesman Rahui Papa, addressing the crowd, restated Wilson’s korero by saying thank you.

Papa referenced Ardern’s comment at Waitangi for Māori to judge her on her record, and went on to thank her for genuine attempts to engage with Māori.

He spoke of the cost the Spanish flu in the 1920s to the Māori people and the concern Covid would be the same. Papa thanked her for her efforts through Covid and the genuine relationships with Māori groups across the country.

Outgoing PM Jacinda Ardern and incoming PM Chris Hipkins arrive at Rātana Pa. Photo / Michael Neilson
Outgoing PM Jacinda Ardern and incoming PM Chris Hipkins arrive at Rātana Pa. Photo / Michael Neilson

He said the attacks on families because of their lives in politics were unacceptable.

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“We say to you over the last five years, your efforts have been very very welcome and we wish you well as you go into the future.”

Papa also referenced the impending marriage to Clarke and Neve’s start to school this year.

“Just because you won’t be the PM doesn’t mean the 25 of January doesn’t extend a welcome to you to return.”

Papa welcomed Hipkins and Sepuloni in their new roles “inheriting the captaincy of the Waka”.

He demanded the ongoing relationship with te ao Māori be continued, saying it must not be compromised by “Facebook warriors” and others.

He also referenced how no Māori caucus members were selected for PM or DPM. “We understand there must be reasons.”

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However, Papa said it was necessary for Māori to be involved in growing the next leader when one was required. “It’s about succession planning”.

“We say farewell to you Prime Minister, we wish you well. Whether Aotearoa is gearing up for the war of the Chrises, whether it’s blue or red, the treaty must ring true.”

As waiata broke out to cap off Papa’s whaikōrero, several people got up to dance. A kuia even took the opportunity to ask Labour MPs and even Prime Minister for her hand, which Ardern politely declined with a wide smile on her face.

Rātana church representative Ruia Aperahama joined the other speakers in thanking Ardern, saying it had felt like we had come out of a Third World War.

“No matter our difference of opinion, let us learn to love quickly, let go quickly, forgive quickly and take full responsibility of our part.”

He cheekily asked Ardern to consider naming any future children Waru - the name Rātana offered to Ardern when she arrived at Rātana in 2018 and she was pregnant with Neve.

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Waru (eight) is a special number for Rātana which harks back to its inception.

Citing election year and National’s presence, Aperahama said “we love them all” - which prompted a few chuckles from the crowd.

Aperahama said he looked forward to seeing Hipkins’ vision for the nation. “Let us see the glass half full rather than half empty.”

Rātana relationship ‘very important’

Hipkins earlier said it was his first official visit to Rātana as incoming PM.

“The Rātana relationship has always been very important to Labour.”

Hipkins said he travelled up with Ardern and it was good to get a chance to chat. “It’s a bittersweet moment. I’m really honoured to take on the role, but Jacinda is also a very good friend of mine.”

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He said there were “moments when it sinks in, and moments when it doesn’t feel quite real.”

He first visited in 2004 when Helen Clark was PM and it was a good upbeat start to the year.

Asked about Luxon’s decision to speak about co-governance he said it was up to leaders to decide what to talk about. He would use his chance to introduce himself better to the morehu, and speak a bit about the road ahead.

He again pointed out that in its history, National had entered a whole range of co-governance agreements.

“The most important thing we can do is talk to New Zealanders and explain what we’re trying to do in the context, and it is different in different contexts.”

He did not think race relations should ever be used to divide New Zealanders. “I think in the past it has been.”

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He said his own te reo was “not very good” and he would be talking about that - he had grown up at a time when it was not commonly used or taught in schools and the country should be proud that it now was.

He also defended himself for forgetting what the third article of the Treaty was earlier in the week, saying most New Zealanders would not be able to recite them. He had learnt them before.

He would not give any clue about what he might say in his first post-Cabinet press conference tomorrow - he will be sworn in tomorrow after which he will hold a press conference.

He would not say what advice Ardern had given him on the drive up, saying he would keep it to himself for now.

Ardern is clearly the main attraction as people flock to give their thanks to the outgoing Prime Minister. Ardern and Labour MPs were escorted by Māori Wardens to visit the temple.

It comes as the battle of the Chrises begins, with new Labour leader Chris Hipkins and Luxon debuting in what is regarded unofficially as the start of the political year.

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That traditional moniker granted to the Māori religious festival was arguably blown out of the water by Ardern last Thursday with the bombshell news she was resigning, along with setting the election date of October 14.

Ardern, accompanied by a raft of Labour MPs and ministers, were welcomed onto the marae and given the opportunity to speak at 2pm, alongside support partner the Green Party.

National was welcomed on at about 11am, along with Te Pāti Māori as opposition parties. Act did not attend.

The three-day Rātana religious festival began on Monday and culminates on the birthday of the church’s late founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Rātana, on January 25.

Thousands of Mōrehu, followers, have descended on the small Māori village, from iwi across the country.

Musician Stan Walker talking to young fans on Rātana Pa Marae. 24 January, 2023.  NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell
Musician Stan Walker talking to young fans on Rātana Pa Marae. 24 January, 2023. NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

The middle or politicians day is often referred to as the start of the political year - especially in an election year - where promises are made, tones set, and Māori from across the country make clear their views.

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The Rātana movement is a church and pan-iwi political movement founded by Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana in 1925. It has historic links to the Labour Party after its founding prophet formed an alliance with former PM Michael Joseph Savage in 1936.

That alliance has been challenged by parties such as Te Pāti Māori, but has stood the test of time.

The church currently has around 50,000 followers.

Ardern herself has a special connection to Rātana, attending in 2018 in her first public outing since announcing she was pregnant.

Rātana were also the first to gift a name to her daughter Neve - Waru (eight), a significant number for the Rātana Church.

It is expected Ardern will be acknowledged for her time as Prime Minister, while Hipkins will be welcomed and challenged on Labour’s record for Māori.

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National leader Christopher Luxon addressed the controversial topic of co-governance, saying Labour had confused the term, after he was challenged to not be afraid of it at Rātana Pā.

Luxon said he was enjoying his first visit to Rātana, the Māori religious festival, a place you could “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Speaking to media, he said he had raised his views on co-governance in his speech at Rātana because the Government had been “messy” in its own approach to co-governance.

He said he had wanted to be clear that National did not agree with co-governance in public services, but did want Māori to achieve and get ahead. He did not believe co-governance in public services was the way to do that.

He said departing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had not been able to articulate what was meant by co-governance or how far it would go.

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He denied that his own party had whipped up fear on co-governance, saying Ardern had not been willing to spend any of her political capital on explaining it “and as a result people have been left behind and now we have fear and division.”

He said the issues facing Maori in their everyday lives were the same as for others - from cost of living to health.

New Zealanders were proud of the Treaty settlement process, Luxon said, and co-governance in that respect had worked, but the recent moves on co-governance had been “messy” and confused people.

On Three Waters, Luxon said it was not too late to repeal the programme because the entities did not come into being until next year.

“It is deeply unpopular and what you have is a government that has not listened at all. But Chris Hipkins has been part of the holy trinity ... for the last five years.”

He said it was not believable or credible for Hipkins to now say he wanted to change direction and focus on the economy.

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Earlier, Luxon started off his speech in Te Reo Māori, acknowledging mana whenua and the Rātana mōrehu and said his reo was a “work in progress”, he said.

He said it was a “genuine privilege” to be there and he was proud of achievements previous National governments had achieved with Māori.

He acknowledged the last “poor election result” and not having the diversity of a caucus they should have.

National would demonstrate “kindness and care” by being great stewards of the economy, Luxon said.

The party was also focused on equality of opportunity and social investment.

Despite Rātana being known for not focusing on the politics, Luxon strongly criticised the Labour Government in his speech, restating how he believed Labour was spending too much money and hiring too many bureaucrats.

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He believed the Government hadn’t been upfront with New Zealanders, prompting distrust in communities.

Referencing co-governance, which he has been told not to be afraid of, Luxon believed Labour had confused the term.

National opposed co-governance in the delivery of public services, such as health, education and critical infrastructure, he said, but it did not mean National did not want Māori involved in decision-making.

“By Māori, for Māori” could be within a coherent public service, he said.

National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis and their MPs are welcomed on Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis and their MPs are welcomed on Rātana Pa Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Whānau ora, kohanga reo and charter schools were examples Luxon cited as good examples of self-driven initiatives by Māori communities.

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Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni says she not surprised Christopher Luxon’s first speech at Rātana was largely about co-governance, saying National likes to “rark up the tensions in the space with regards to racism”.

“It’s pretty predictable, it’s very divisive for New Zealanders and I think very irresponsible but not surprised by him doing that at all.”

Sepuloni believed it wasn’t the first time Luxon had made inappropriate comments at public events, recognising the theme of Rātana is to lean away from the politics.

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