12 Jul 2012

Maori Party supports leaders' stance - president

9:01 am on 12 July 2012

Maori Party president Pem Bird says the party is supportive of the strong reaction by its leaders to comments made by the Prime Minister about the Waitangi Tribunal.

The leaders say the party should seriously consider the future of its relationship with the Government, because John Key has insulted all Maori by saying the Government could ignore the ruling the Waitangi Tribunal makes on water rights.

The tribunal is holding an urgent hearing as the Government prepares to sell a 49% stake in some state-owned assets, including power companies that have hydro schemes.

The Maori Council has filed a claim to the tribunal that seeks recognition of water rights and a recommendation to freeze Crown share sales in the companies.

Mr Key said on Monday the Government could choose to ignore the outcome of the hearing because the tribunal's rulings are not binding on the Government, comments that have angered the Maori Party.

Mr Bird says the reaction was appropriate, and party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples will speak with Mr Key on Monday.

"We want to see what was in the Prime Minister's mind ... within the context of our relationship with the Government and our position on the Tiriti o Waitangi and all the ramifications around that."

Mr Bird says any further action will be taken in consultation with the membership.

Maori Party whip Te Ururoa Flavell told Morning Report the party will time to consider the issue so it does not make any decisions that could permanently affect its position in Parliament.

"We're going to take our time to work it through and if it is at the end of the day that we decide to stay or walk, that will be a decision that will be considered, well thought out and well discussed."

Mr Key said on Wednesday although National and the Maori Party have disagreements at times he doesn't think it is a make or break issue and described the relationship as stable.

Relationship 'could get worse'

Political commentator and former Alliance MP Willy Jackson says the chances of the party walking away from its relationship with Government at the moment are minimal because it has too many issues it is trying to advance, such as its whanau ora policy.

However he says if the Prime Minister continues to disregard the Waitangi Tribunal, the Maori Party will have no choice but to walk.

Canterbury University political scientist Rawiri Taonui says it will come down to how Mr Key handles the Waitangi Tribunal's report on water rights.

He says international research suggests the tribunal will rule in favour of the indigenous rights on water, which could lead to further court action.

The Waitangi Tribunal continues hearing submissions on Thursday and the Crown gives evidence on Friday.