The political heat is ratcheting up on Parliament's Maori MPs, who are split on whether to condemn this week's police raids on Maori and environmental activists, or reserve judgment.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples claims the raids have set race relations in New Zealand back by 100 years, but Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia dismissed that statement yesterday and said the Maori Party should not rush to judge the police.
The political awkwardness of the situation was highlighted when Mr Horomia let his guard down earlier in the day and told TV3 that he doubted Tame Iti, who is one of the arrested activists, was a terrorist.
Mr Horomia's office later issued written comments in which he said people should wait to see what evidence the police had before making judgments.
"Frankly if people are running around with guns and molotov cocktails in the bush and making threats, I don't believe most Maori would consider this behaviour acceptable," Mr Horomia said. "Many of us find it hard to believe that the behaviour of these characters might amount to terrorist activity. But the police wouldn't have raised this potential lightly, so let's wait and see."
The Maori Party has been quick off the mark in questioning the police raids, and Labour's Maori MPs have been left in the difficult position of having to wait and see what evidence the police have before taking a stance.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen warned earlier this week that it was not for any MP to start deciding what the facts of the cases were, and most MPs have remained tightlipped.
National's Maori Affairs spokesperson Georgina te Heuheu yesterday said she felt the police raids had not helped race relations, although she trod carefully when asked if she thought some of the people arrested could potentially be terrorists.
"I'm Tuhoe myself," she said. "No doubt the law will discover if he's [Iti] a terrorist or not - that's not for me to worry my head about is it?"
Labour Cabinet Minister Nanaia Mahuta said she felt the media had been "cooking up" some aspects of the situation.
"This isn't a Maori issue, this is an issue of public safety," she said. "The police are doing their job, as the minister of police has said, let that process take its course."
Mr Horomia also emphasised that many of the people involved were non-Maori, and he urged the Maori Party to pull back from its attacks until they had all the facts.
But Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell yesterday continued his questioning of Government ministers about the police raids, this time focusing on Education Minister Steve Maharey.
Mr Flavell referred to the impact armed police had had on young children being ferried to a kohanga reo when they were stopped at a roadblock. Some of the children were still too scared to go back because of what they called the "ninja army", Mr Flavell said.
Mr Maharey said he had checked out the incident, and had been advised that police did not board the bus full of children.
"It really is important at this time for cool heads to prevail," Mr Maharey said.
* Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said police had disrupted a workshop on yeast-free bread making and seized the computers and underwear of the Taupo-based organiser of the Eco Show, Bryan Inness, who runs an organic vegetable business from home.
Mr Inness said yesterday he was unsure whether any underwear was taken by police but his daughter was concerned that her underwear was interfered with when police searched the premises.
Mr Inness, his family and a guest from Sweden were asked to stay in the lounge while the house was searched. Police took computers, including one belonging to the guest.
"I think they came to my house because they are spreading the net wide and my daughter has a defacto relationship with a person from over there [Ruatoki] and he has been living in our home as my son-in-law for nearly two years," he said.
- additional reporting NZPA