Speech to the Diplomatic Corps

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Tēnā koutou katoa.

Acknowledgements to the many Heads of Mission gathered this evening. It is good to see so many nations represented here to share in this 180th commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Welcome, especially to those for whom this is your first visit to Waitangi, the historic birthplace of modern New Zealand.

The land on which we stand lies in the tribal area of Ngā Puhi. We would like to offer our thanks to Ngā Puhi for hosting us here in Northland.

Northland, the “birthplace” of New Zealand’s foreign relations

Northland has a long history of engagement with travellers from afar. Local legend tells the story of Kupe, the first Polynesian settler to reach New Zealand one thousand years ago.

In the early nineteenth century, the Bay of Islands became the major whaling port of the Pacific. Missionaries settled in Northland from 1814, followed soon after by European tradesmen, merchants and land speculators, and then the first British Resident in 1833.

This was a time of opportunity, for Māori and for Europeans. But it was not without discord, and often times conflict.

The significance of Waitangi

180 years ago, just two kilometres up the road from where we are now, representatives of the British Crown and the rangatira or Chief of Northland signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

This was the start of a project – about how we work together, respecting difference and seeking to create a fair and just society.

Waitangi therefore holds great significance for New Zealanders. At Waitangi you will find our foundations as a nation and as a society.

Celebrations on Waitangi Day highlight the special status of Māori as tangata whenua or people and the land.

The legacy of the Treaty

Waitangi Day is also an important day for dialogue and debate as a nation. It was not uncommon in past times to see the celebrations contrasted with protest.

This legacy of Waitangi is lived in this country every day.

As New Zealanders, we pride ourselves on making our voices heard and addressing our differences freely and openly.

We do our best to do the right thing. Where things aren’t right, we endeavour to put them right.

The Treaty in New Zealand foreign policy

The principles that guide New Zealand’s foreign policy also have their roots in this domestic history.

We uphold democracy – one person, one vote, since 1893. We value freedom, from fear, from want. We defend human rights, as set out in the 1940 Universal Declaration, and we promote stewardship for our environment.

The experience of Waitangi also drives us to empower diverse voices in our region.

Under the Pacific Reset, we are committed to a safer and more prosperous Pacific. The disproportionate impact of climate change on our Pacific Island neighbours, in particular, stresses the need for an empowered Pacific, able to share its unique voice on the world stage.

A principled approach to global challenges

With our own voice, too, we continue to speak up in defence of international rules and institutions in this time of growing turbulence.

The challenges facing the international rules-based system are increasingly grave, and it is the responsibility of us all in this room to be advocates for peace and cooperation.

Thank you all for supporting New Zealand’s global connections. In this complex environment, your role as diplomats, as relationship-builders, as solution-finders is vital. Your work in New Zealand helps build trust and understanding, and helps identify common ground.

During your time here please take the opportunity to reflect on the significance of Waitangi and its legacy. For those of you returning offshore, please take with you strengthened bonds of friendship.