Eyes on historic royal visit to Waitangi

Charles and Camilla will make a landmark visit to Waitangi on Wednesday.
Charles and Camilla will make a landmark visit to Waitangi on Wednesday.

The head of New Zealand's Maori Council believes Prince Charles' ascension to the British throne could spark breakthroughs in indigenous health and rights.

And if so, the turning point could be Wednesday, when the Prince of Wales joins the Duchess of Cornwall in a landmark visit to Waitangi, the site where New Zealand's foundational document was signed.

Not since Charles' last trip 25 years ago has a member of the British Royal family visited the Bay of Islands, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the Crown and Maori chiefs in 1840.

While Queen Elizabeth II has ceded her power to exercise the Treaty to the New Zealand government, Maori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki is imagining the possibility of a break with tradition under her son.

"When it comes to the presence of Camilla and Charles in New Zealand, actually this could be the ability for us to have a circuit-breaking moment," he told AAP.

"The (Treaty) relationship isn't with the government of the day, necessarily, but the institution we signed with all those years ago, with the Crown.

"(Charles) will be a completely different monarch. He has a different style.

"He's been seen as somebody where he's more likely to have his voice heard. Like on climate change and environment issues.

"Look at his son's (Prince Harry) advocacy over mental health.

"We could have a different style of relationship, directly with the Monarch, than Maori have had, with monarchs going back to Queen Victoria, and I think that could be a good thing."

Queen Elizabeth is the world's longest-reigning monarch and has made a practice of not publicly interfering in politics.

For Charles, who will become King upon the 93-year-old's death, to change tack on that approach would be extraordinary.

Tukaki points to an unfortunate set of figures to make the argument for Crown intervention.

"We have the highest incarceration rates per head of population in the country," he said.

"We now have the highest suicide rate per head of population anywhere in the OECD.

"Our children are more likely to be taken into state care. We're more likely to be pulled over by the cops in brown postcodes.

"So is the system of government that was set up through at the time through the Treaty ... really fit for purpose?"

Australian Associated Press