The head author of a report Judith Collins labelled separatist says it is "disappointing" to see the discussion racialised and become a "political football to create fear".
The National leader has accused the Government of trying to create "two systems by stealth", with separate systems for Māori, based on the report He Puapua.
The report was produced by a working group in 2019, tasked by the Government to recommend how New Zealand could realise its commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It draws together multiple documents and reports on Māori rangatiratanga, or self-determination, and includes a roadmap to 2040 by which time it envisages various co-governance and Māori-run arrangements to address the huge inequities currently facing Māori.
These include a separate Māori Parliament or upper house, health and justice systems, further return of Māori assets including foreshore and seabed, and recognition of cultural rights and equity.
It has not yet been considered by Cabinet, and therefore is not Government policy.
University of Auckland law school associate professor Dr Claire Charters, who chaired the Declaration Working Group (DWG) that produced the report, said these recommendations aimed to do quite the opposite of Collins' claims they were "separatist" and "segregation".
"It is quite ironic it was framed that way, because really it is about the opposite, about equality and unity," said Charters, of iwi Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Ngā Puhi and Tainui
"And it is sad it has been used as a political football to create fear, as the objective was the opposite, to provide hope for a more unified era for the country.
"It is about how under one state, we can have joint authority in some areas and not in others, others led by the Crown and others Māori.
"Māori continue to suffer under the current system, and until that is addressed there will be no hope for unity."
It was also disingenuous to frame the recommendations as "race-based".
Rather it was about New Zealand realising its international obligations and what Te Tiriti o Waitangi required.
"It is about a compact between two peoples, the British and Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which is political, not racial," said Charters.
"Other countries including the United States and Canada have laws that recognise this, where indigenous people have authority over for example land and resources, and research shows when indigenous people have this control, they do better."
But she agrees with Collins on one point - the Government should come clean with its position and how it planned to proceed, having provided it to then Minister of Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta in November 2019.
The report laid out a timeline to December 2020, urging the Government to be proactive in releasing it publicly and explaining its position and the next steps.
However, this did not occur. A heavily-redacted version was released in October last year, without much fanfare.
The full version was released under the Official Information Act in March to various politicians and organisations.
The working group understood there were some "big issues" to discuss, but the public discussion needed to start now it was in the open, Charters said.
"We asked for it to be released a long time ago. I wish it had been so we could have started with an intelligent discussion, and it is unfortunate it has come out this way.
"But I am glad it is finally out. We understand the focus has been on Covid-19, but absolutely believe the Government needs to explain its position, and help salvage the situation and start an educated and mature discussion."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today she would rule out some recommendations in the report, including establishing a separate Māori parliament, but declined to comment further on "individual elements that have not even been before Cabinet".
"The report put forward has been received by the Minister but has not gone before Cabinet and does not necessarily represent the views of Cabinet."
Charters said there was also little evidence to back up Collins' claim the Government was trying to enact various recommendations "by stealth".
Although the report did recommend establishing a Māori Health Authority, as recently proposed by the Government, it did not go into much detail.
The Waitangi Tribunal has also recommended such an authority, as have numerous Māori leaders and politicians.
Charters said while they had made similar recommendations, their intentions were for those to be enacted "incrementally", not just to garner public support but to build capacity.
What is He Puapua?
The title He Puapua translates to "a break". It usually refers to a break in the waves, and in this report the authors intend it refer to breaking of the "usual political and societal norms and approaches".
It provides recommendations and a pathway for New Zealand to enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2010, which it signed up to in 2010 through then-Māori Affairs Minister and Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, under a National-led government.
But it has its roots in longheld Māori calls for rangatiratanga, self-determination, as guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Authors said while New Zealand has made some "important progress" on Māori participation in kāwanatanga karauna (state governance), it was comparatively weaker on realised Māori self-determination, rangatiratanga, or "Māori control over Māori destinies".
This could range from full independence to Māori participation in state governance, but was up to Māori to determine.
It sets out a vision, that by 2040 - the bicentenary of Te Tiriti - Māori should have ability to exercise full authority over our "lands, waters and natural resources, uphold our responsibilities as kaitiaki and implement Indigenous solutions with resources and support to do so, Aoteaora will be a thriving country for all".
It is that last point, "thriving country for all", that Charters believes has been lost in the political discussion over the past few weeks.
The main pillar of the report is for the Government to refocus on Māori self-determination, rangatiratanga, which would range from full independence to Māori participation in state governance.
It includes a range of general recommendations, including that by 2040 Māori participation in governance will be "strong and secure", and significant estate returned to Māori.
"Under a rangatiratanga Māori model, Māori are seeking authority to determine their own destinies, rather than to regulate all people in Aotearoa".
Rather than separatist, the model is "inspired by an understanding of equity that means all peoples and individuals should be able to realise their potential, but that this might only be possible if different approaches are taken for different peoples and individuals".
"It does not mean all individuals must be treated the same."
Specifically it recommends transfer of specific services and jurisdiction to whānau, hapū and iwi in areas like health, state care and criminal justice.
This included Māori control over health-related spending and policy, and a Māori court system.
Other ideas included having Government-accountable measures around equity and independent Māori bodies to monitor them.
The authors considered Aotearoa "has reached a maturity where it is ready to undertake transformation necessary to restructure governance to realise rangatiratanga Māori".
The authors noted they did not reflect Government, nor public, position.
Rather their report was "a first step towards a Declaration plan".
Through to 2040 the report laid out a comprehensive timeline to realise their recommendations, with an immediate step to establish a "high-level co-governance body" with equal Government ministers and Māori representatives to approve a final engagement strategy.