Maori Party MPs will talk to their members over their future with National as Prime Minister John Key insists he is too busy to meet the minor party co-leaders about a row over water rights till next week.
In a show of solidarity with claimants pressing their case over water rights to the Waitangi Tribunal, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia made an appearance at the hearings yesterday and refused to offer assurances over the future of the coalition with National.
Asked if it was the most serious rift yet between National and the Maori Party, she responded: "I don't know whether I could say that, but I am really concerned about the fallout from it".
She confirmed the co-leaders would be speaking to Maori Party council members and the future of the relationship rested with them.
"That's for them to decide really."
Co-leader Pita Sharples earlier reiterated that he would prefer to stay in government and get policy wins from the inside.
But Mrs Turia acknowledged the party was "disappointed" with Mr Key and also considered his remarks inflammatory.
"It has been inflammatory when you look at radio talkback."
Issues such as water, or the foreshore and seabed, exposed the racism that was "simmering just below the surface of mainstream New Zealand", she said.
Mr Key has repeatedly rejected the notion that Maori have an ownership right over water – which goes to the heart of the Waitangi Tribunal case – and has suggested the Government could ignore any recommendation that finds otherwise.
The tribunal has been holding urgent hearings this week after being asked to make a finding before the Government goes ahead with the share float for state-owned electricity generator Mighty River Power.
Staff from Mrs Turia's and Dr Sharples' offices spent yesterday trying to find a time for them to meet Mr Key after earlier suggestions they would be seeking an urgent meeting to air concerns.
Mr Key said Mrs Turia was "more than welcome to ring me" but his travel schedule would not allow a face-to-face meeting this week.
"I'm more than happy to talk to them but there's nothing new in what I've said and nothing I've said publicly differs to what I would say [privately]."
Mr Key is in Wellington today. Mrs Turia will be at a tangi in Whanganui.
The Government's asset sales timetable could be jeopardised by the row.
Mr Key would not rule out a delay yesterday, although he said he "would hope not. I can't for the life of me see why the sale of shares in Mighty River Power would have any impact on the issue of water."
- The Dominion Post
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