Key defends $5000-a-head Maori Party dinner

Last updated 19:17 14/04/2014

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Prime Minister John Key says there is nothing unethical or inappropriate about charging guests at a Maori Party dinner $5000 a head to sit with him for part of the evening

It has been reported that 15 Maori leaders were charged $5000 a head to attend a dinner with Key at Auckland's exclusive Northern Club. Maori TV's Native Affairs is screening footage of the event this evening.

Guests were reportedly promised face time with Key. Key's office this evening did not deny that, but said there was nothing inappropriate or unethical about the practice.

Part of the deal was that Key would change his seat often throughout the evening so everyone had a chance to talk to him "confidentially".

In response to questions, a spokeswoman for Key said he had attended a number of functions for the Maori Party "and the other parties we have relationships with"."

"The wording of the invitation is a matter for the Maori Party, however, the prime minister is comfortable with it," the spokeswoman said.

"At fundraising events the prime minister often changes seats in order to meet as many people as possible.”

Selling face time with party leaders is a common way for parties to raise funds - upmarket Auckland restaurant Antoine’s raised $165,000 for National from hosting  $5000-a-head dinners before the last election.

Labour has raised money in similar fashion: it charged individuals $1000 a head to dine with actor Sir Ian McKellen, who is a critic of National.

Labour MP Shane Jones said the Maori Party had lost its way.

"They're nothing more now than the prime minister's personal kapa haka group."

The prime minister was clearly trying to give the Maori Party a lifeline, but it was up to iwi to throw them that lifeline "not the corporate donors of the northern club", Jones said.

The Maori Party referred questions to fundraiser organiser Naida Glavish but she could not be contacted last night.

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