National denies it's ready to help Turia on foreshore bill

By John Armstrong, Ruth Berry

The Maori Party appears confused by the mixed messages National is sending over its foreshore and seabed repeal bill.

Maori Party leader Tariana Turia claims National will support the bill's first reading, but National sources say that is unlikely.

Mrs Turia told the Herald at Ratana that her party had National's support to get her private member's bill to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act to select committee stage.

National was "certainly saying that they'll be doing that at least to select committee," she said.

"So with Act, the Greens and the Maori Party we've got 60 votes, so it's up to United Future."

The party needs 61 votes to get the bill to the select committee, where a public submission process would be held.

But a spokesman for National leader John Key said: "No, we can't confirm that".

"Discussions about the bill are still ongoing within the National Party."

National sources went further, saying it was now very unlikely their caucus would vote in support.

This was National's initial stance, articulated by then deputy leader Gerry Brownlee, when the bill was first pulled from the ballot last year.

But towards the end of the year, National sources were suggesting there had been a change of heart and the party was likely to back it to select committee.

Mr Key said before Christmas that National was giving the issue serious consideration. But it appears another mood swing in the party has occurred.

Some caucus members are concerned the party might burn off National's conservative constituency if it aligns with the Maori Party on such a critical issue.

Other National sources say the party could not simply repeal the legislation without having a replacement solution - which, given the complexity of the issue, would be difficult without the use of government departments.

The party may yet signal it is be willing to reconsider the issue once in Government.

United Future leader Peter Dunne, meanwhile, said his party was giving serious consideration to the bill, which Mrs Turia said could be voted on soon after Parliament resumes.

United Future MP Gordon Copeland has a private member's bill which aims to protect private property rights under the Bill of Rights.

Mr Dunne said the party was investigating whether Mr Copeland's bill, if passed, would cover the same issues.

Mrs Turia's bill was complex and there were a number of issues for United Future to consider, including whether the public wanted the issue revisited.

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