Labour faces a strong challenge in all seven Maori seats with "everything up for grabs", National Party leader John Key said.
Mr Key was speaking following his political discussions with tribal representatives at the Te Tii Marae, Paihia, today.
Soon after he left the meeting house Key told journalists Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau had a clear message for the National and Green Party politicians present.
"The message has gone out. Gone are the days Maori vote the way their parents vote," Mr Key said.
"Everything is up for grabs now. They are optimistic for New Zealand and they want to see their people succeed. They were pretty receptive to the message we delivered."
Titewhai Harawira has once again grabbed the political limelight today. Mrs Harawira, the mother of Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, personally escorted Mr Key and his entourage to the steps of Te Tii Marae from the coastal road entrance at Paihia.
Earlier she had greeted Mr Key with a welcoming kiss and cuddle as he entered the grounds of the meeting house.
Asked for his reaction to Titewhai Harawira clasping his hand as he was welcomed on to the marae Mr Key said: "she (Titewhai) said she was pleased to welcome me on to the marae and grabbed my hand accordingly."
Key said speakers inside the marae made it clear there would be a strong challenge to Labour in all seven Maori seats from the Maori Party this year.
Speakers inside the marae made it clear there would be a strong challenge to Labour in all seven Maori seats from the Maori Party this year.
Before going on to the marare Mr Key told reporters the National Party would have no second thoughts about abolishing the Maori seats once the historical treaty settlement claim process had been resolved.
With Mrs Harawira at his side Mr Key also said the National Party had no intention of doing any deals with the Maori Party in the build up to the election this year.
Elaborating on his party’s policy to abolish the Maori seats Mr Key told journalists: "I think if you really have a look at the raison d’etre for those seats, it was well established back in 1867 and I think by the time the historical settlement process is completed then I am not convinced at all the Maori seats are the right vehicle for ensuring Maori have a voice in this country."
Commenting again on Prime Minister Helen Clark’s absence from the Te Tii Marae political leaders debate Mr Key said National was happy to front up and talk about its policies.
"If she wants to have a private little chat with her candidate 20 minutes up the road that is over to her."
Miss Clark will be in Kerikeri this afternoon where she will endorse the Labour Party candidate, Kelvin Davis, who is standing against Mr Harawira in the northern Maori electorate seat.
A spokesman for the Waitangi National Trust said there could be around 50,000 people at the commemorations, as numbers had been heading upwards over the years.
Even with torrential rain last year, there were still 12,000 at the event.
The Navy also has a big presence at Waitangi for the 168th commemorations of the first signing of the treaty.
For the first time since 1998, a Naval Guard - of 100 personnel - will parade at all the scheduled ceremonies. The naval ship Canterbury will anchor off Paihia until February 6.
A 21-gun salute will be fired from the treaty grounds at midday on Wednesday.
- The Dominion Post
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