Goff accused of using race card

01:34, Dec 03 2009

Phil Goff has been accused of sparking racial divisions with an "Orewa-style" speech after he attacked National-Maori Party deals signalling the foreshore and seabed will again be a political football.

Maori Party MP Rahui Katene said Labour was sending out dangerous messages and trying to divide Maori and Pakeha.

"The Maori Party is calling on the public not to fall into the scaremongering trap ... in his version of another racially divisive Orewa-type speech," she said; a reference to former National leader Don Brash's 2004 speech calling for the abolition of privileges for Maori.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said Mr Goff's comments were a desperate move. "Let's hope he doesn't stir up something when there's nothing there."

In his speech to Grey Power in Palmerston North yesterday, Mr Goff said the current foreshore and seabed law was working well and the issue was being reopened by the Government "for politics, and not for principle".

"It's hard to see why the country should be put through all the grief just to put a new brand on law that's working. Or it might be more than that, in which case the Government should tell us," he said.

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That reversed Labour's post-election promise not to play politics with the issue. It had also accepted change was needed to allow Maori to seek customary title to the foreshore and seabed, which had been ruled out by Labour's law.

Mr Goff said access to the beach was a "birthright" for Maori and Pakeha, though traditional Maori rights and usages should also be respected. Iwi should be consulted before development occurred.

He acknowledged Labour's "processes" over the foreshore and seabed could have been better, but National in 2003 had used the issue to whip up fears.

It was now trying to erase that part of its history in a deal with the Maori Party.

Prime Minister John Key dismissed the speech as a plug for relevance by a leader struggling in the polls.

"It's a bit hard to take this speech seriously. Phil Goff's an opposition leader looking for a headline," he said.

"If he believed it, I'd probably take it a bit more seriously, but if he did believe it, he was obviously very quiet in the last nine years under a Labour government."

Yesterday, Mr Goff denied playing the race card with criticism of National's deal with the Maori Party over the emissions trading scheme. It gave some iwi extra compensation and shifted the long-term burden of the scheme from big polluters to taxpayers.

"Race is a red herring in this deal. It's about subsidies for big corporations, and I am not going to shy away from saying so," Mr Goff said.

Mr Key's deal with the Maori Party was "cynical", "shabby and short-term" manipulating the treaty settlement process in a way that could damage the process.

"We can choose our future based on principle and with the interests of all New Zealanders at heart. "Or we can have a country where one New Zealander is turned against another, Maori against Pakeha, in a way that Labour strongly rejects," he said.

The Dominion Post