Should the Maori Party split with National if Treaty protections are removed from asset sales law?
Prime Minister John Key says the Government is committed to meeting its Treaty of Waitangi obligations and will find a way to settle tensions with the Maori Party.
The Maori Party threatened today to split with National over plans to remove Treaty references when state-owned assets are sold.
Co-leader Tariana Turia said that, if it came down to the wire, the Maori Party would have to "consider its position" with the Government.
The Government has been accused of selling Treaty rights to the highest bidder following suggestions Treaty protections will not be included in new legislation to enact the partial sale of state-owned assets.
It is required to pass legislation to remove the four energy companies from the State-Owned Enterprises Act to proceed with the sales.
Turia said National did not discuss the removal of the Treaty clause with the Maori Party during confidence and supply negotiations and they were not happy with it.
But Key said this afternoon he was "extremely confident" the Maori Party would remain part of the Government.
"There are lots of times when there's been debate and discussion."
The agreement between the two parties allowed for disagreement, he said. The Government would find an "elegant way through" the situation.
The new legislation would not put Treaty obligations on the private sector, Key said. But the companies will remain 51 per cent Government owned.
"We can't put a Treaty clause on private sector shareholders."
The difference with past sales of state-owned assets was that they had been totally sold.
State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said Section 9 of the SOE Act - which requires the Crown to act in a manner consistent with the principles of the Treaty - was left out of legislation enabling the sale of Contact Energy in 1999, as well as the sale of other state-owned assets in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It wouldn't make sense for the energy companies to be subject to Section 9 of the SOE Act because it applied to the Crown, Key said.
Under the mixed ownership model the Crown was not the only shareholder.
"There's a lot of discussion to be had, water to flow under the bridge."
The Government was open to creating specific Treaty clauses in the new legislation, Key said.
Finance Minister Bill English had spoken to the Maori Party this afternoon and explained National's stance.
Labour leader David Shearer says the tensions between the Maori Party and National raise concerns about the stability of the Government.
Shearer says John Key electioneered on forming a stable Government.
"And within one month effectively of this Government coming into operation it's already seen to be unstable."
If the Maori Party did walk away National would be left relying on one ACT MP to hold the Government together, he said.
Shearer said the Maori Party would likely be upset at not being told about the Treaty clause but it did not concern Labour who were opposed to asset sales in any form.
"One would have expected that they told the Maori Party before they went into this agreement what exactly was coming down the track in terms of the sale of the assets."
He said Labour was also concerned about the likelihood that the social responsibility clause would not apply under the new legislation.
Removing the Treaty and social responsibility clauses from new legislation opened the way for foreign ownership and eventually the total sale of the assets, Shearer said.
"It's quite clear that what they're doing is putting profits before people and enabling overseas buyers more access to our assets."
Turia said the party would talk to iwi and constituents and take advice from them.
If they told the party to leave its arrangement with National they were prepared to do so and would not stay in the arrangement "at all costs".
"If they remove Section 9 there will be no reason for them to consult with Maori about issues so they would actually be denying that the Treaty exists."
The Party had to be very clear about who they represented, Turia said.
"It's really in the iwi hands, the iwi have to stand firmly on this issue because we're here representing their interests and our peoples interests."
The issue would cause tension at Waitangi Day commemorations over the weekend and at least one iwi leader had suggested Maori hold a hikoi in protest of the move, she said.
Co-leader Pita Sharples said the party was not in government to ignore the real issues.
"This Treaty clause is about New Zealand. It's not just about Maori. The Treaty is all of our Treaty and this clause protects us and our natural resources, us New Zealand, and that's really, really important to me."
Will Judith Collins' resignation hurt National at the polls?Related story: Judith Collins resigns, says she's a victim