If somebody goes to Fiji, will probably be me - Harawira

The Maori Party could decide today whether to go ahead with a mission to Fiji after Prime Minister John Key stopped its co-leaders, who are both ministers, from taking part.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday exercised his prime ministerial veto against Pita Sharples' plans to visit Fiji - a change of mind from Sunday when he said Dr Sharples could go in a personal capacity, or as leader of the Maori Party.

Co-leader Tariana Turia said the decision was not mana-enhancing for her party.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said today he would go to Fiji - if anyone did.

"We've got to get back together again and work out whether or not we're going to go ahead and if so who is going to go," he said on Radio New Zealand.

"If somebody is going to go it will probably be me."

Mr Harawira said the delegation, if it went, would not want to speak just to military leader and self-appointed prime minister Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama.

"I don't want people to think we're just going over there to say `way to go Frank, carry on doing what you're doing'," he said.

"It won't be just Bainimarama it will also be, if possible, the council of chiefs, some of the women's organisations."

Mr Harawira said the message would be that the Maori Party was ready to help in any way it could, if people in Fiji wanted that.

He said he fully accepted Mr Key's decision.

"I don't have an issue with that. He has to ensure his government speaks with one voice but the National Party doesn't speak for the Maori Party."

Disagree but accept - Turia

Dr Sharples and Mrs Turia said last night they accepted the Prime Minister had the right to make the decision and they would abide by it.

However, Mrs Turia said it did not mean the party agreed with it.

'What I think is he's asserting his right as Prime Minister to say yes or no. He does have the right to do that. I don't have to agree with it, but I do accept it."

She believed it was possible to separate their roles as ministers and Maori Party co-leaders.

"I think Commodore Bainimarama would have understood the difference. He's not a fool."

She said Dr Sharples had been clear that the reasons he wanted to go were because of Maori whakapapa to other Pacific nations, and the trio would discuss it with Mr Key at a meeting last night.

The row

The stoush falls on the fifth anniversary of the day the hikoi on the foreshore and seabed arrived at Parliament's steps - the hikoi which resulted in the Maori Party being formed.

The incident is unlikely to damage the long-term relationship, but does emphasise the difficulties in understanding the two parties sometimes have.

Mr Key had believed he had secured agreement from Dr Sharples on Monday that he would not proceed with the delegation. However, Dr Sharples announced the party was still planning to go ahead with it after meeting his caucus yesterday morning, forcing Mr Key to issue a swift "no".

Mr Key accepted he may have caused confusion, but said his reasons for blocking Dr Sharples' participation were because the Government had to be seen to hold a consistent position on Fiji.

"Effectively [his position as Maori Party co-leader] is inseparable from his position as a minister on this issue."

He said he had also made it clear he would carefully vet personal travel by MPs after minister Richard Worth came under fire for a trip on which he praised New Zealand's aviation training, despite being involved in a company which offered it.

Fiji's interim attorney-general Aiyez Saiyed-Khaiyum said they would be happy to receive the delegation.

He would not comment on Mr Key's actions, but said if Dr Sharples was to come he would be treated as a minister of New Zealand.

Otago University law lecturer Andrew Geddis said Mr Key had little choice but to prevent Dr Sharples from taking part even as Maori Party co-leader especially in the area of international relations.

"Within New Zealand we know the politics of it all, but on the world stage those nuances aren't apparent."

He said for a minister, even in a private capacity, to travel to Fiji and voice support to the regime would send "mixed messages."

- NZ Herald

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