Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave her final public address as Prime Minister, at Rātana Pā. Photo / Pool
"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.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made her final public address as Prime Minister at Rātana Pā, saying the job has been "the greatest privilege of my life".
"I wasn't to speak today but you were not having a bar of it”, Ardern told the thousands of attendees.
It was special and symbolic to be at Rātana with tangata whenua for her final outing, she said.
Ardern reflected on her first time at Rātana, having just announced she was pregnant with Neve. She thanked the church for gifting the name 'Waru' to her daughter.
Leaving 'in the best of hands'
The government "hasn't been perfect," Ardern conceded in her final Te Ao Māori News interview as prime minister.
"I am comfortable with what we've tried to do to make sure that we are fulfilling our obligations as the Crown, that we're fulfilling our Treaty obligations," she said.
“You know, you've got to be able to sleep at night, knowing that you've done your best and you've done what you've believed is right.”
Ardern was leaving the position "in the best of hands," she said - referring to her successors, Chris Hipkins.
She dismissed commentary speculating far-right extremists bullied her out.
“My overwhelming experience in this job has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said.
'You do you'
“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."
Ardern made the two-hour drive to Rātana with Hipkins.
"Probably the most important advice I gave him was ‘You do you'," she told reporters.
"There’s no advice I can really impart. I can share information, I can share experiences, but this is for him now.”
Che Wilson (Ngāti Rangi) relayed iwi appreciation for the prime minister's service: “It is only right that we say thank you”.
"Leadership is lonely", he said, paying tribute to Ardern's whānau for their support.
Referencing lockdown and vaccine mandates, Rahui Papa, spokesman for the Kingitanga, thanked Ardern for preventing the Covid-19 pandemic from decimating Māori, as the Spanish flu had in 1918.
“We say to you over the past five years, your efforts have been very, very welcome and we wish you well as you go into the future.”
Attacks on whānau of political leaders were unacceptable, Papa said.
“Just because you won’t be the prime minister doesn’t mean January 25 doesn’t extend a welcome to you to return,” he said.
Leaders welcomed Hipkins and deputy Carmel Sepuloni "inheriting the captaincy of the waka".
A relationship with Māori shouldn't be compromised by 'keyboard warriors', Papa said.
Reciting a mihi in te reo saw Hipkins met with rapturous applause.
As a Pākehā growing up in Upper Hutt in the 1980s, Hipkins said he didn’t know much about te ao Māori.
His te reo? "Not very good," he conceded.
He said he was proud Labour introduced New Zealand history into schools, and said he was at Rātana to listen.
Earlier in the day Hipkins dismissed talk by National party leader Christopher Luxon that the party would ditch co-governance if it were elected at October's general election.
"The National Party's position on these issues seems to change quite a lot between when they're in government and when they're not," Hipkins said.
'Never use race relations'
"John Key, Chris Finlayson and Bill English entered into a whole raft of co-governance arrangements.
"Perhaps Christopher Luxon would like to say which of those he'd like to go back on."
Hipkins was asked if he was worried the stage might be set for an election fought on race.
"I think race relations should not ever be used as an issue to divide New Zealanders," he responded.
That neither the prime minister nor deputy prime minister roles were filled by Māori was addressed by the leaders.
"We understand there must be reasons,” Papa said.
'Treaty must ring true'
Māori had to be part of future succession planning, he argued.
Church representative Ruia Aperahama appealed for dignity in politics, referencing the upcoming election.
“No matter our differences of opinion, let us learn to love quickly, let go quickly, forgive quickly and take full responsibility for our part.”
Aperahama said: "We love them all," winning chuckles from his audience - apparently referencing National's presence.
“Let us see the glass half-full rather than half-empty,” he requested, referring to Hipkins' upcoming agenda.
Papa said: 'No matter who is the leader or which party is in power, te Tiriti must be central.
"Whether Aotearoa is gearing up for the war of the Chrises, whether it’s blue or red, the Treaty must ring true,” he said.
“We say farewell to you, Prime Minister, we wish you well."