Key admits blunder over Treaty

By Claire Trevett, Audrey Young

National leader John Key has admitted that he blundered yesterday over his party's Treaty settlements policy.

He said on breakfast television that National had not previously had a date by which it wanted settlements completed.

In fact, its position at the last election was that grievances be settled by 2010.

The party changed that in February last year, shortly after Mr Key became leader. The settlement target was extended to 2014 and tied to the abolition of the Maori seats.

Mr Key said then that instead of abolishing the seats as soon it became Government, it would start the process in 2014, when it believed historical Treaty settlements would be resolved.

He issued a statement last night saying that in trying to distinguish between the party's present position and the formal policy document that would follow later in the year, "I gave the impression that National did not have a date for the settlement of historic Treaty claims".

"This was wrong. Our goal is to settle all historic treaty claims by 2014."

The policy blunder followed criticism over an apparently uncertain party position on Labour's change on Monday to foreign investment rules, aimed at blocking a 40 per cent sale of Auckland Airport to a Canadian pension fund.

Meanwhile, another controversy Labour has targeted will have a sequel today when Northland's Bay Report newspaper, in which Mr Key was quoted as saying, "We would love to see wages drop", issues a clarification.

The Bay Report will say it accepted that any impression its report gave that Mr Key wanted wages to drop was incorrect.

Mr Key reportedly made the comment during an informal meeting with Kerikeri Business Association head Carolyne Brooks-Quan in which they discussed the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand. It has been repeatedly used by Labour as evidence of a "secret agenda" by Mr Key.

Yesterday, National described the clarification as a "retraction" when Finance Minister Michael Cullen again used the quote against Mr Key in Parliament.

Dr Cullen also claimed Mr Key had tried to bully the editor and newspaper into sacking the reporter who wrote the article.

Northern Advocate general manager Tony Verdon said Dr Cullen's version of events was incorrect.

"There was never any question of anyone being bullied or sacked for it. That was never an issue and it was never raised with us."

Mr Key has previously said that while he did not remember the quote it was probably a reference to Australian wages dropping.

He claimed he was "badly misrepresented" by the Bay of Islands newspaper and "took umbrage with the reporting".

Ms Brooks-Quan has also backed Mr Key, telling the Herald she never got the impression Mr Key wanted wages to drop.

However, the quote has continued to attract barbs from Labour. The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union and Council for Trade Unions have also used the quote and yesterday issued another round of press releases querying National's commitment to wage increases.

- NZ Herald

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