The Maori Party has given the first indication it is rethinking its support of the new foreshore and seabed bill after intense pressure from both its own MP Hone Harawira and Act.
Yesterday co-leader Tariana Turia said the party would pull its support for the Marine and Coastal Area Bill if there was strong Maori opposition to it.
That follows a two-pronged attack on the bill from Mr Harawira, who opposes it, and Act, which has lobbied the Government to include an amendment specifically ruling out any charges for access to areas held in customary title.
It is the first time the Maori Party has indicated it could back away from the bill, which it worked with the Government to draw up.
It previously said four of its MPs would help vote it into law because it met the promises made to Maori by repealing the 2004 act and restoring the right to go to court to have customary title tested.
However Mrs Turia said yesterday that the party would take its lead from its people and the submissions during the select committee process.
"If people round the country, if our constituency says it is not worth our while progressing this, of course we wouldn't [support it]."
Act's amendment has become a bone of contention after Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said he would consider it despite claiming the bill already required free access.
Yesterday Prime Minister John Key indicated the change could be made by the select committee simply inserting the word "free" into the clauses guaranteeing public access rather than by a later amendment.
Asked about the issue on his way into Parliament yesterday, Mr Harawira refused to answer any questions asked in English and spoke only in te reo before walking away.
He earlier told Radio Waatea that if the Government agreed to Act's request then the Maori Party should walk away from the coalition.
"I don't see why we should sit back and let a little fat redneck like Rodney Hide put in an amendment at the last minute."
Mrs Turia would not say if adopting Act's amendment made it less likely her party would support the entire bill into law. She objected to Act riding in for its own political reasons by stirring up fear about free access. She believed it was already clear that public access would be free.
"That is what we support, what the iwi leaders' group supports, what every hapu in the country supports, and we think it's just a bit of politicising by the Act Party who of course are not polling very well at the moment."
If the Maori Party does pull support, it could mean the current 2004 act would stay in place. Mr Key has previously said he would not make any changes if there was not a reasonable level of consensus and the Labour Party has not yet decided whether to support it further.
Mr Harawira has urged Maori to make submissions opposing the bill, saying it stops short of ownership for Maori and the threshold for customary title is too high, meaning most hapu would get nothing.
He has led a concerted campaign against it, encouraging party members and Maori to make submissions opposing it and write to party leaders.By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire