National has raised questions about Government plans to develop the Crown-Maori Relations portfolio into a more formal partnership office.
Crown-Maori relations spokesman Chris Finlayson says it will raises expectations among iwi and Maori organizations that they will wield more power over Government policy.
"Is this agency really necessary?" Finlayson asked. "It is embedding a further layer of consultation and bureaucracy based along racial lines into everyday running of Government."
The partnership plan has not yet been signed off by Cabinet . But elements of it were referred to during speeches on Monday in the cabinet room during an event in which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Crown-Maori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis hosted a partnership advisory group, including veteran activist Titewhai Harawira.
The original Crown-Maori Relations portfolio was set up by Ardern to take oversight of the 7000 or so commitments the Crown has made in Treaty of Waitangi settlements with iwi.
But in a round of hui to consult on the portfolio, ambitions appear to have grown and one of the Maori speakers on Monday, Natalie Coates, said it had to have a brief for constitutional issues.
Speaking on behalf of Davis in Parliament today, Justice Minister Andrew Little said it was clear that the Treaty of Waitangi had a standing in New Zealand's legal framework "and we now have to make sure that the legal framework we continue to operate under continues to maintain the status and place of Tiriti o Waitangi."
Referring to an Appeal Court ruling which described the treaty as a "partnership," Little said that as Lord Robin Cooke had said in 1987, the treaty is alive, it is a relationship "and we have to think what that relationship looks like and how it is conducted in the years ahead."
Finlayson said the Ministry for Maori Development, Te Puni Kokiri (TPK), already provided guidance to the Government about policies affecting Maori.
But New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones indicated to reporters that Maori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta had been asked to justify the work of TPK – "what exactly is TPK doing and why do we still have it doing what it does."
Asked about Davis' plans for a new organisation, Jones said: "Kelvin is a mate and I back him."
He said Davis was committed to overcoming "various blockages" between Maoridom and the Crown. But Jones also said it was important to pick targets that were deliverable.
At Monday's event, Harawira sat in the cabinet seat of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters on Monday but no New Zealand First ministers were present.
Asked about her taking his seat, he said: "I'm a generous man."
He was non-committal about his support for the evolving plans for partnership, merely saying it was still being discussed.