National's leader Christopher Luxon has said no to a referendum on co-governance - for now - something likely coalition partner ACT has said is a bottom-line.
However, he left the door slightly ajar - saying he has "serious reservations" about co-governance in public service delivery and the government needs to make its case.
Luxon this morning was questioned several times about what National would do. In the end, he rejected the suggestion National could go either way.
"I'm focused on what the National Party thinks ... there'll be a time for us to think about coalition partners down the road but right here, right now, I'm very happy to have that conversation about co-governance but let's have it in an intelligent way, a mature way, rather than kneejerking and jumping to sort of stereotypes as to what that is."
"I appreciate he's got a view about what he might want to do with his party and a referendum ... no. I don't see a need for a referendum at this point, if you ask me that question."
That was in reference to ACT leader David Seymour, who was accused of race baiting last week after launching a petition for the referendum, saying Labour was "trying to make an unequal society on purpose" with different political rights and duties for Māori.
He said the government was seeking to create division by implementing co-governance, citing the three waters and health reforms, and the He Puapua report.
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer however said Seymour was simply politicking and being disingenuous.
"It's a real slight when we see politicians not only try to wipe away history, but wipe away the uniqueness of tangata whenua. This isn't a debate that should be had in 2022 ... but it is again, sadly.
"It's disappointing but it's not surprising that we see David almost step into the little Don Brash Jr shoes ... it shows David's ignorance that Te Tiriti is about mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga. It is about, in fact, Māori being able to assert their own self-determination, how they manage their marae, how we manage our issues."
Luxon suggested however that the government was pushing ahead with a different kind of co-governance than New Zealand was familiar with.
"The government's gone down a pathway, it hasn't been transparent, it hasn't been honest, it hasn't gone on and made the case, it hasn't tried to spend its political capital to tell New Zealanders as to where it's going.
"I look at that issue and I go 'well co-governance historically - or co-management in previous National Party governments - has been really around local iwi working with local government and central government on the management of local and natural resources. But what we're now talking about is co-governance happening within the sphere of public services.
"If it is genuinely about co-governance of the delivery of public services, that's something that I feel uncomfortable with."
National's view of the Māori Health Authority, for instance, was it would not lead to better outcomes, he said.
"We personally believe that we don't need two systems to deliver public services, we need a single system that ultimately has enough innovation and components in it that can deliver and target for people on the basis of need. It's a pretty simple sort of view of the world.
He said it was a "challenging" topic, and the prime minister and government needed to make the case to the public if it was going to push ahead.
"I think there is a real need for us to have a genuine, high-quality conversation around co-governance ... when you don't take the people with you, and you don't frame up what it's about, as a result you leave people behind and it drives more division."
He would be willing to call out other politicians if they were stirring up the race debate for political reasons, he said, "but I wouldn't jump to conclusions that that's what's always happening either".
"Just because we're having a conversation doesn't mean we're racist or race-baiting.
Luxon insisted the debate could and should be had "in quite a sensible, mature kind of way".
"I think that we should be able to have a conversation without names and mud being thrown at each other. We should have a sensible, intelligent, mature conversation about it."
He acknowledged respectful debate on race had not always been National's approach, but "I'm now the leader, and we will do it respectfully going forward".
In a statement, Seymour welcomed Luxon's willingness to have a conversation on the topic, but said dismissing a referendum "would be ignoring the problem and hoping it'll go away".
"That's been the strategy of successive National governments in the past, ACT is challenging Christopher Luxon's government to be different and deliver real change," he said.