Prime Minister Helen Clark today defended her refusal to meet hikoi participants protesting the Government's foreshore and seabed legislation, saying that meeting them would not have moved the issue forward.

Hikoi participants were met by Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen and most of Labour's Maori MPs when they reached Parliament about 12.30pm today.

However, Miss Clark stuck by an earlier refusal to meet hikoi participants, some of whom she labelled this week as "haters and wreckers".

Under questioning in Parliament Miss Clark said not meeting marchers had created ripples, but meeting them would have caused "a great deal more distress to most people who want to see the issue moved on".

"We hear the concern being expressed but my method is that we must govern in the interests of all New Zealanders to get a fair balance which is what we are striving for," she said.

"From the outset when the Court of Appeal decision arose the Government made it clear it would govern for all New Zealanders.

"That meant it upheld the birthright of every New Zealander to enjoy and have access to the coastal marine area, but the Government also said from the outset it would respect the customary position of Maori."

MPs will tomorrow vote on the first reading of the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, which vests the foreshore and seabed in Crown ownership.

With Labour having won the support of NZ First, the bill's first reading is expected to pass, even though Labour MPs Tariana Turia and Nanaia Mahuta have said they will vote against it.

- NZPA