Key admits treaty settlement deadline 'unrealistic'

National Leader John Key has indicated that his party's policy of completing all historical treaty claims within five years of election will not be achieved.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen pounced on Mr Key's comments as an example of either policy "slipperiness" or confusion over what National's policies were.

Mr Key told Television New Zealand's Breakfast programme that National never had a policy and deadline to settle historical treaty issues.

"What they said was they wanted the claims lodged, and they'd like to see them cleared up by a certain time, but that's not necessarily guaranteed," Mr Key said.

In 2005, National did have a policy of settling all the grievances by 2010.

After Mr Key replaced Don Brash he moved to slightly amend the policy to take account that National could not possibly be in Government until the 2008 election.

In February 2007, Mr Key confirmed that National would tie in the abolition of the Maori seats with the settlement of treaty claims.

"The caucus confirmed that the Maori seats will be abolished, which we anticipate will take place around the time of settlement of historic treaty claims," Mr Key said at that time.

"Around the time of the last settlement - which we anticipate will be in 2014 - National will begin a constitutional process to abolish the seats."

At the time Maori and others criticised the deadline as impossible to achieve.

Mr Key appeared to acknowledge today that it could not be done within the time frame.

"I mean no one can guarantee that, including the current Government, and the reason is that you have to go through a process, and you need durability in that process," Mr Key said.

Dr Cullen said the abandonment of the firm deadline came as a surprise and it was possible Mr Key was making it up as he went along.

Asked if Mr Key maybe moving his position in case he needs to a deal with the Maori Party after the 2008 election, Dr Cullen replied: "I think he's got half a mind on that but the other half simply keeps slipping and sliding".

Labour has a policy of resolving the claims by 2020.

United Future Leader Peter Dunne also questioned Mr Key's stance.

"New Zealand needs to settle grievances once and for all, and sooner rather than later. Both Maori and non-Maori need this to happen so we can move on as a country," Mr Dunne said.

"National makes this point in their policy - so I can't work out why Mr Key now seems willing to delay settling the claims process."

Yesterday, Labour accused Mr Key of being evasive over his attitude to the sale of strategic assets after he criticised new rules allowing ministers to block foreigner taking control of such assets.

Labour continued the attack on Mr Key in Parliament today accusing him of flip-flops, secret agendas and policy slipperiness.

- NZPA

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