Labour MP Shane Jones says his party has to realise that National has the numbers to push through state asset sales, and he will not criticise iwi which wish to invest in them.

Yesterday Mr Jones said that although Labour opposed state asset sales they were now inevitable and iwi wanting to invest in them for commercial reasons should not be pilloried.

He indicated a more pragmatic stance on the issue was ahead as Labour sought to re-build its links with business and enterprises.

"We can continue to criticise that programme, because we are in Opposition. But ... the Labour Party needs to learn to count in terms of the election outcome.


"The Government has the numbers to pursue its programme. I certainly won't get too precious if various iwi step up to the plate and say 'we want to be part of this action'. That's a decision they're entitled to take. They've got sovereignty over their own commercial decisions."

The position is similar to that of the Maori Party - which is opposed to state asset sales but has said it will support any iwi which wants to buy shares.

Mr Jones is expected to be the top-ranked Maori MP in Labour's caucus under new leader David Shearer and to be given a significant portfolio, possibly in an economic area. Nanaia Mahuta is also expected to get a front bench place - a return to the days of two Maori in front bench positions.

The new bench will signal a changing of the guard within the Maori caucus - former front-bencher Parekura Horomia is expected to be moved to the mid-benches.

Yesterday, Mr Shearer said the process of putting together his front bench and handing out portfolios was continuing and he expected to announce it on Monday.

It is understood the man he defeated - David Cunliffe - has yet to agree to any proposal for a front-bench position or on specific portfolios.

However, Mr Shearer said he had a "good conversation" with Mr Cunliffe on Wednesday and expected to talk to him again yesterday.

David Parker is expected to get the finance portfolio which Mr Cunliffe had previously held and Mr Cunliffe said on Wednesday that he needed some time to work out what he wanted to do before committing. He is expected to take some time off rather than return to Parliament when it opens next week.


Mr Shearer said he hoped to keep the science and innovation portfolio he had held before the election for himself, although it would depend what others wanted.

His deputy, Grant Robertson, would also get a portfolio, but it was unlikely to be a big one, such as health or education, because of the demands of his new job.

The numbers of the Maori caucus have shrunk from seven to six with the departures of Kelvin Davis and Mita Ririnui and the addition of Rino Tirakatene who won the Te Tai Tonga seat.

However, Mr Jones said the group was in good heart and ready to tackle the job of rebuilding support for Labour among Maori.

"Winston [Peters] has a certain attraction among our Maori voters and the Greens, I think, have made some inroads amongst a lot of our younger, more liberal, maybe more educated Maori voters, so we have to be mindful of those two influences."

Mr Jones said the first outing of the New Year would be to take Mr Shearer to the Ratana celebrations in January to reaffirm Labour's links with the church.