Thursday March 22, 2018   Last updated 21:09PM

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Maori Party challenge

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Maori Party challenge

The Kermadec Sanctuary deal is turning into a potential game changer for the Government.

Just like the Foreshore and Seabed debate ended up being the downfall of Helen Clark's Labour Party’s Maori MPs, the Kermadecs could go the same way for National’s coalition partner, the Maori Party.

There needs to be a satisfactory compromise or it will be the end of the cosy coalition.

John Key says he's open to a deal with Iwi on the proposed Kermadec Islands marine sanctuary. But he wants any promise by Iwi not to fish in the sanctuary to be signed into law, rather than simply taking them at their word.

That stance could undermine the rigorous Waitangi Treaty deals that have been done and any future settlements.

Te Ohu Kaimoana, which represents Maori fishing interests, says the sanctuary breaches its Treaty rights and though no one has fished that far out, outlawing Maori now is at the heart of the debate.

It's clear Environment Minister Nick Smith has dropped the ball on this issue and delivered the Prime Minister a hospital pass.

Smith was not satisfied with Iwi’s proposed voluntary rahui, or ban on fishing, and instead wanted it part of the legislation.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox agreed that any agreement between Crown and Iwi over the Kermadecs would need to be written into law, and suggested that the legislation governing the sanctuary could be reviewed after 10 years, instead of 25 years as proposed by the Government.

She knows how important it is that they find a solution with Te Ohu Kaimoana already calling for them to walk out. That call will get stronger from members and the general Maori population if a resolution isn’t found.

The Maori party understandably will be very reluctant to walk, having had a number of wins under National. Funding for Te Reo Maori, Whanau Ora, Maori housing projects and historical Maori commemorations are just a few examples of the types of success they have been able to achieve as a government coalition partner.

They have been able to do this beside a government who have been oblivious to the tragedy of homelessness and poverty which have become far too prevalent in this country.

So, they should be congratulated for being able to get some positives from a government who seem to have forgotten their priorities. They have voiced their protest by voting against National in areas like housing and poverty, but just voting against them now on the sanctuary will not be enough.

This is the Maori Party’s ‘Foreshore and Seabed’ moment; the government cannot unilaterally declare that Maori rights do not exist. It will be fascinating to see if Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox are able to find a way forward in the next few weeks.

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