National Party leader Judith Collins says her party will not pursue policies of 'racist separatism' when dealing with poverty and lack of opportunity in New Zealand.
Collins said socio-economic statistics pointing to inequities faced by Māori reflected poverty and simply highlighted the need to address obstacles in the way of all citizens to achieve success in society.
She said not all Māori faced poverty and held up deputy leader and National's health spokesperson Shane Reti up as an example of someone who had worked hard to get ahead.
Collins made her comments on Morning Report in response to questions over an internal discussion document circulating among National Party members in the lead-up to a special general party meeting in 26 June.
The 18-page document puts forward recommendations to bolster the party's governance and structure, including the need for stronger focus on Māori and diversity.
It follows criticism during the last General Election campaign about the 'white' make-up of the party's front bench.
Changes proposed would look to increase party diversity and embed the Treaty of Waitangi into the party's constitution.
It proposes appointing board members alongside elected board members to increase diversity and skills gaps "should specific 'seats' be allocated based on representation, for example a Māori Directors' seat". In also recommends standing in Māori seats at election time.
Collins said the document was not secret and had been circulated to inform debate among members. She said her leadership did not want to get ahead of its members and she did not want to pre-empt any decision they would make.
"Membership will be the sole determinants of what is actually adopted, and I don't want to prejudge that," she said.
"We did have it [the Treaty of Waitangi] in the party constitution until, I think, 2003. So, these are things that we are going to discuss. I'm not going to prejudge it because I absolutely believe in a democratic process in the party."
However, Collins stridently denied the recommendations reflected a radical departure in policy. It did not signal a move towards affirmative-action type solutions to social problems.
She said social-economic statistics indicating Māori disadvantage simply reflected poverty, which many different New Zealanders faced. Not all Māori were poor, she added.
"It is not actually an issue of race, there is nothing in being Māori that intrinsically makes anyone more in need in the health system," she said.
"We're not going to go down that path, any more than the National Party will ever agree to racist separatism in education, or in the justice sector. It is important that we have solutions that work in communities, but they will not be based on someone's ethnicity."
"This is actually an issue of poverty and opportunity. It is not an issue, intrinsically based on or linked to ethnicity and to say it is ignores the fact that there are many New Zealanders of many different ethnicities who struggle.
"We have to understand that we either have a country built on a separate system for Māori versus every other New Zealander, or we have a system that is based on equality and on bringing opportunity through to every New Zealander, irrespective of face.
"We will not stand for a separatist New Zealand. We will stand for a New Zealand where everyone gets equal opportunity, and we're able to help everyone to come through to the best of their ability and their own self-determination."
Collins said she believed many Māori wanted to join the party because it stood for individual freedom, choice, and allowed people to get ahead by hard work and determination, according to their talents.
Collins held up Whangārei MP and National Party deputy leader Shane Reti as an example of a Māori person who had achieved success through hard work.
"I just look at someone by Dr Shane Reti and say 'how could anybody say that he is anything other than an example of someone who has got ahead, worked extremely hard, principled in his approach."
National Hauora Coalition clinical director Dr Rawiri Jansen said there was no reason why Māori should have worse health outcomes.
He told Midday Report that Māori had been failed by the health system.
"There's nothing intrinsically, being Māori, that should give us differential health outcomes we've got.
"It does turn the focus to the system, how the system can change to do a much better job. We can all agree ... some structural change in the system is a good idea."
When asked if the new authority was separatist, he said: "We've got a separate system already."