Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Hui on confidence and supply but not ministerial positions

Pem Bird. Photo / Ben Fraser
Pem Bird. Photo / Ben Fraser

The Maori Party hui over a proposed confidence and supply agreement with National began last night but ministerial positions would not be discussed, Maori Party president Pem Bird told the Herald.

Those present would talk only about whether to enter into another confidence and supply agreement or to go into Opposition.

The hui would be completed by Friday, Mr Bird said.

It is understood that National has told Mr Bird and his fellow negotiator, vice-president Ken Mair, that the Maori Party can decide whether to put up co-leader Pita Sharples or Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell for a ministerial post alongside co-leader Tariana Turia.

National would not be concerned if Dr Sharples kept his Maori Affairs portfolio but lost the leadership to Mr Flavell. It would also be comfortable if Mr Flavell were made co-leader and held a ministerial position.

However National is mindful that ousting Dr Sharples from the leadership could lead to a byelection in Tamaki Makaurau that the Maori Party might not win.

Any agreement on the party choosing ministers is not likely to be open-ended. If Mr Mair were to replace Mrs Turia as MP for Te Tai Hauauru during the term, it is unlikely Mr Mair would walk into a ministerial role.

Dr Sharples, who is in his 70s, won the seat by just 746 votes from Labour's Shane Jones on November 26 and it is unlikely he would have stood if he knew he would be on the backbenches.

Mr Bird is from Mr Flavell's Waiariki electorate and last week said he would expect Mr Flavell to have a ministerial post if he were co-leader as well.

With Act and United Future giving National a majority of two, it does not need the Maori Party to govern - though it will wait until the final vote, including specials, is announced on Saturday before going to the Governor-General.

It is not clear whether a leadership coup against Dr Sharples is under way with the possible support of co-leader Tariana Turia.

Mr Bird and Mr Mair have suggested that the endorsement of the co-leadership by the party executive - as required under the constitution - may be more than rubber stamping the status quo.

Mr Jones says there is no doubt that a leadership coup is under way.

"Without a doubt this is Tariana saying she is the Maori Party."

He also said broadcaster Willie Jackson - who contemplated standing for Mana against Dr Sharples at the election on November 26 - made supportive comments about Dr Sharples when he spoke at the Maori sports awards in Auckland on Saturday.

Mr Jones said during his campaign in Tamaki Makaurau Dr Sharples had always "left the people with the clear impression that he was hanging around for his full three years and he looked forward to completing the work he had been doing as the minister".

"Pita is a proud man. He has held aloft the ambitions of urban Maori in Auckland for nigh on 35 or 40 years. I think if he is dealt with in a cursory fashion, you could see a byelection in Tamaki Makaurau."

- NZ Herald

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