Treaty stand-off: Maori Party defection unlikely

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Last updated 05:00 01/02/2012
STANDING BY THE TREATY: Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples.
Fairfax NZ
STANDING BY THE TREATY: Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples.
CONFIDENT OF SOLUTION: Prime Minister John Key.
Fairfax NZ
CONFIDENT OF SOLUTION: Prime Minister John Key.

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Most prime ministers would have the good manners to look more concerned at the prospect of a support party defecting.

OPINION: Of course there is no mileage in public panic, and John Key is nothing if not self-confident.

He is sure he can smooth over concerns that Treaty clauses will not apply to partially privatised power companies.

No, it will not be a deal breaker, he said, hours after Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said it could be.

"Do I think I'll find an elegant way through it? Yes," he said echoing his assurances over the foreshore and seabed law; a solution so elegant Hone Harawira split and the Maori Party suffered badly at the polls.

Which brings us back to the current stand-off.

Yes, it's about asset sales, the Treaty and the Government's poor timing in the week leading up to Waitangi Day.

But it is also, and mainly, about the Maori Party's positioning.

Goaded by Mr Harawira, and needing to deny it is National's poodle, the party has come out swinging – and not for the first time in recent days.

On Thursday Pita Sharples launched into Mr Key's scene-setting speech for ignoring the Treaty and not mentioning poverty.

On Friday he was outraged about approval of the Crafar farms sale.

Why so stroppy now?

Well, last year the Maori Party argued it needed to be at the table with National to be effective.

But Labour, Mana, the Greens and NZ First feasted on its votes, despite its public stand over Auckland council seats and the foreshore law.

Two months into a new term it is making its point loud and clear.

The party is not just at the table, but thumping it hard.

Mr Key has shown the way forward in the current stoush; a clause that makes the Crown's Treaty obligations clear while leaving private investors out of the mix.

It remains to be seen whether the Maori Party will reluctantly claim that deal as a partial victory or continue to pound the table.

However, the appearance of disunity is not necessarily instability – though it is no surprise Labour is talking that up.

It will likely take a lot more goading from Mr Harawira before Dr Sharples and Mrs Turia finally push back their chairs and leave.

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