The Marine and Coastal Area Bill moved a step closer to becoming law on Tuesday evening when it passed its second reading in Parliament.
The bill will replace the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act and restore the right of iwi and hapu to seek customary title through the courts.
It passed by 62 votes to 56 with the support of the National, Maori and United Future parties.
Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira, who left the Maori Party, partly over the bill, failed to vote, an apparently embarrassing blunder.
Mr Harawira said earlier that the bill represented the continued theft of the foreshore and seabed.
But his former Maori Party colleagues Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell say they have the backing of their electorates to support the legislation.
It will now have to pass through committee stages and a third reading before becoming law.
Prime Minister John Key says the Government has not considered delaying the passage of the bill because of the Christchurch earthquake.
Labour Party leader Phil Goff urged the Government to delay its passage, saying the legislation was intensely divisive and there was no rush to bring it back to Parliament.
He accused the Government of trying to ram through the bill so it is off the radar by the time the election is held.