Prime Minister John Key says he would be "sorry" if the Maori Party walked out on its governing deal with National following a crunch meeting tonight and could not rule it out.
But Key said he would be "surprised" if there was an enormous gap between the two parties over the issues around water ownership.
He made it clear he would not resile from his statements that the Government would likely ignore any Waitangi Tribunal finding in favour of Maori claims over water.
"As prime minister it's my responsibility to make sure that people understand what the government's position is and how we intend to approach an issue. I've done that, I don't think I have done that overly aggressively or antagonistically."
The meeting with Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples late tonight follows their strongly worded criticism of the prime minister's comments last week as "insulting".
Turia later refused to offer any assurances about the minor party's future with National and said it was in the hands of the party.
But she insisted today there had never been any threat to walk from National.
Asked if he thought the Maori Party would walk away from Government, Key said he hoped not.
"I mean it's always possible. You can't nail people's feet to the floor. It's like any relationship, it's bound up in trust and the desire that they want to be there. But my own view is that they achieved a lot in government, I'd be sorry to lose them if they went and I hope they don't."
This morning Turia refused to say what the outcomes of the meeting might be.
"This is a meeting between the party and the Prime Minister.
"I'm not prepared to tell you what we're seeking out of it. Those are matters that'll be discussed at the meeting."
Maori had rights and interests in the water and it was for iwi to determine what they were, not politicians, Turia said.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said governments had been dealing with the issue of Maori rights to water for years.
"I think it would be quite good if a few people read the statutes that Parliament have passed and just see what we have been doing recognising the rights and interest of iwi, Maori, in water and acting on it in a very sensible and pragmatic way."
Labour MP Parekura Horomia said the sale of state owned energy companies was the equivalent of confiscation of Maori water rights.
"Maori have property rights like farmers and councils who distribute the water.
"It becomes more tangible when the Prime Minister sells it as a commodity."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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