Maori Party leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples are to meet John Key today to discuss the future of their political relationship in light of the Prime Minister's "insulting" comments about the Waitangi Tribunal.
Mr Key, who confirmed the meeting would take place in the evening, yesterday turned his guns on the Maori Council, saying its claim before the tribunal to halt the sale of Mighty River Power shares until Maori claims over water are settled, was "opportunistic".
Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples were absent from Parliament yesterday, but party whip Te Ururoa Flavell said today's meeting was important given Mr Key's comment last week that the Government could ignore tribunal recommendations favourable to the Maori Council.
In strongly worded criticism last week, Mrs Turia said Mr Key's comments were "insulting", undermined the tribunal, and gave people permission to say damaging things about Maori.
Mr Flavell yesterday said the party was "anxious but also positive" about the meeting. The possibility of walking away from National was "something that we'll have to consider after the meeting".
"We've said all along we will coalesce with those people who are willing to work with us and we are willing to work with them to advance our kaupapa. That might be National now, it could be someone else later on."
Mr Key believed the relationship with the Maori Party would survive.
"I can't see for the life of me why the Maori Party would want to leave because the Government states its position." He didn't believe his comments last week were inflammatory but "just statements of fact".
The Maori Party had achieved a lot in their relationship with National.
"They're well and truly aware of what's been gained for Maori as opposed to a random application by the Maori Council. If you want to follow the argument of the Maori Council, why wasn't that tested in 1999, when Contact Energy was sold? Why wasn't it tested when TrustPower was sold. In my view it's opportunistic."
The council did not speak for all Maori, but "there are many iwi leaders who support the Government" over its approach to Maori rights over water.
"Over the last three or four years they've seen that process as a much more logical and coherent process than any application by the Maori Council to the Waitangi Tribunal."
Finance Minister Bill English said the Government fully expected the Government's partial asset sales plan would stimulate Maori interest in asserting their rights and interests in water, "and some would see that as an opportunity, and that's exactly what's played out".By Adam Bennett Email Adam