Henare sticks to buffoon remarks

11:59, Aug 30 2009

Tau Henare is refusing to apologise for labelling coalition ally Rodney Hide a "buffoon" and a "jerk-off" as tensions escalate over the Government's Auckland super-city plans.

Prime Minister John Key issued only a mild rebuke to his errant MP  a sign that Mr Hide's brinkmanship over the super-city proposal has ruffled feathers.

Mr Key ruled out asking Mr Henare to apologise to Mr Hide and said he was parking it "as a minor backbench issue", though the comments were "unhelpful".

"We all know Tau. From time to time he uses some colourful language but the relationship between the two leaders, myself and Rodney Hide, is very strong."

Mr Henare's comments come as National faces a Maori backlash over its refusal to set aside separate seats for Maori on the new Auckland council. He has been a vociferous supporter of separate Maori seats.

The super-city has posed the biggest test so far of National's ability to juggle the competing demands of its coalition allies, the Maori Party and Act.

Mr Hide, the local government minister, had threatened to resign if National bowed to Maori Party demands for two iwi seats. Mr Key acknowledged that Mr Hide's threat was a factor in his decision not to make room for Maori representation, though not the only one.

But Mr Hide is likely to have further ruffled feathers by talking openly about Mr Key's attempts to broker a compromise between the Maori Party and Act that would have allowed Maori seats in some form  discussions which are normally regarded as confidential.

The Maori Party, meanwhile, is calling on National to let its MPs exercise a conscience vote on the issue of separate Maori seats, after claiming that there were a number in the National caucus who disagreed with the Cabinet's decision.

That has only fuelled tensions further, with Mr Henare saying yesterday that Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples should follow his own advice and resign as Maori Affairs Minister if he felt strongly about the issue.

By demanding that National MPs cross the floor on a point of principle, Dr Sharples was asking them to jeopardise their careers when he was not prepared to jeopardise his own.

"Why should I sacrifice my career when other people aren't? That's the question I put to you ... maybe he should resign."

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