The Maori party might not hold the balance of power but it could still be a critical support to National to further both parties' political goals.

Back with three seats, the Maori Party's Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples have suffered what appears on the face of it to be a loss - down one seat on last time - but shape as a possible coalition partner for the National government, through whom they can pursue what Turia said this week were "very big ideas".

Late last night, National had won 60 seats, with natural allies Peter Dunne (United Party) and John Banks (Act) making 62. They took National slenderly into a majority in the 121-seat Parliament. That meant the Maori Party could yet feature in National's thinking, even if they are not quite "kingmakers".

Taken strictly by the numbers, National may not need the Maori Party to govern - but partnership may not be decided just by the numbers.


Could National's partial asset sales be derailed? Pita Sharples has been careful - not opposing them, saying he prefers Maori corporations to have preferential option, and will encourage Maori to invest.

Key says all investors must be treated equally but the Government could compromise with an iwi share, just as in 2008 it chose not to die in a ditch over the Maori seats. An iwi share could be a win-win for Maori and National.

Top of that Turia wish list is "refocusing Te Puni Kokiri which has huge implications for the department". She wants that to be part of any agreement with government. Instead of TPK simply "monitoring" other agencies, the Maori Party sees it actually setting policy. Turia will also extend Whanau Ora , developed with the National Government, across all agencies and families, not just Maori.

So who will the Maori Party work with? Or - who won't they deal with?

It's well-known Don Brash's Act pronouncements on Maori issues were toxic to Turia, but she reacted angrily this week over the Green Party's policies. Annoyed that the Greens have "audaciously taken many of our policies which we have had since 2005, and never been gracious enough to acknowledge that we had them first," Turia said she had "always been a bit suspicious of them".

Would she trust the Greens to return the conservation estate to tangata whenua? Turia snorted at this: "That's a very good question. I don't believe they would.

"He [Green co-leader Russel Norman] talked about water, putting a price on those drawing water for irrigation. Well, our people have always had a strong relationship with waters and rivers, certainly, and that has been part of our environmental policy since our Party was founded, so I can't be bothered with him really."

A fired up Turia said someone needs to ask the Greens who they really believe owns the water, under the Treaty of Waitangi, since they want to charge for it, and where they think the money should be going.

"I've never heard them mention iwi and hapu, and that would make an interesting debate."

So despite the Party's convention to hold about 40 hui consulting with supporters, the clear steer we get from all this is the Maori Party is looking to continue with National.

Can they work with Winston Peters? Turia said she'd like to think they could even though he's "out there dragging us down, calling us separatists. It does affect you, like Mana when they talk about us in that way. You have to work hard at rebuilding relationships, but it's always difficult."

Turia was celebrating retaining Te Tai Hauauru but lamenting the loss of Te Tai Tonga MP Rahui Katene. Labour's Rino Tirikatene has taken the South Island electorate from incumbent Katene, and Turia said it appeared the electorate was sending the Maori Party a message.

"And it may well be ... that they haven't liked the relationship with National," she told TV3. "I think the really disappointing thing for me is that Rahui Katene has worked harder than any Te Tai Tonga member that I can think of."

Polling had not showed strong opposition to the party's relationship with National but asked whether she was prepared to pledge the support of its three returned MPs - herself, co-leader Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell - to National, she said she was not.

"We're not prepared to pledge anything at this point," she said. "We've always been very clear. We'll be talking about this tomorrow in Auckland. We will go back to our constituency to see what they have to say to us. They may well say to us that we need to rebuild, go back into opposition and get down and do the hard work over the next three years."

The Maori Party had made considerable gains for its people by being a support party to National, Turia said. "But part of the problem is people listen to ... the rhetoric of people like [New Zealand First leader] Winston [Peters] and the Mana Party, and in the end they gain votes at our expense."

Speaking from Manurewa Marae last night, Sharples expressed suprise that his lead in Tamaki Makaurau was so narrow at that stage. "I'm hoping the votes from South Auckland are still to come," he said.

He acknowledged that the Maori Party lost votes to Mana throughout the Maori seats.