National MP Simon Bridges has railed against the government's move to protect Māori wards, describing it as insulting as a Māori man.
Labour has begun rushing through legislation under urgency to do away with a public veto on Māori wards.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the debate has been decades in the making and change is well overdue.
"It's an idea whose time has come. I'm proud that we're taking these steps to push through a change that is long-awaited," Mahuta said.
In 2002, the then-Labour government - of which Mahuta was a part - changed the law to allow councils to set up Māori wards.
But the legislation included a provision allowing a tiny minority of voters, just 5 percent, to force a public referendum and ultimately veto a council's decision.
Since then, 24 councils have tried to introduce the Māori wards - with only three successful.
Times have changed, Mahuta said.
"I'm ... proud of the many mayors and councillors who have lobbied me over the last four years to say 'let's just get on with it, there's too much to do to dilly dally, let's get on with it'," she said.
But sentiment has not universally shifted - with the Opposition furious at the move.
During the first reading last night, National MPs criticised the legislation as anti-democratic, rushed through by a Labour Party which never campaigned on the matter and with only a week for the public to give feedback.
Bridges told the House it was personally insulting to suggest he - and other Māori - needed special and separate treatment.
"Because as a Māori man, it says I'm not good enough because of my whakapapa, because of the colour of my skin ... this bill to me says I'm not good enough to win a vote of a non-Māori, well I am good enough," he said.
The remarks prompted a fiery response from Labour's Willie Jackson.
"Simon Bridges who tries to advocate a Māori position, who should not be the MP for Tauranga, Jan Tinetti should be, he only squeezed home because he forgot about his Māori side yet again during the Tauranga campaign," he said.
The Māori Party also slapped down National, saying the party should know better - particularly given its recent commitment to stand in the Māori seats at the next general election.
Its co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the time has come to do away with a racist provision.
"I'm sure a week will be enough time for the racists to speak. This is a huge win for Māori and for those who have stood up against racism and fought for mana whenua representation in local government," she said.
The Māori Affairs Select Committee will now consider the legislation and hear from the public, before reporting back next Monday.
Māori wards law change process 'utterly insulting to New Zealanders' - Judith Collins
National Party leader Judith Collins also wasn't backing moves to protect Māori wards in local government.
"Having this matter rushed through with urgency yesterday on the first day of Parliament, and then a one week Select Committee to thrash out the detail, is utterly insulting to New Zealanders."
She said she would rather see a discussion of whether other wards, for example rural wards, should be under the same system rather than the removal of the system itself.
"So Māori are underrepresented, we know that, in local government and so are many other people who have a genuine and rightful say in what happens," she said.
"Let's have a proper look at this, rather than a rushed job with a government that's using its majority just to push through legislation."