Key Points:

Iwi leaders who control assets estimated at $5 billion met Prime Minister John Key to brief him on ways they could move important Maori issues forward.

But on a day when dreadful unemployment numbers for Maori were released - 9.6 per cent compared with 4.6 per cent nationally - it was a subject that was not on the forum's agenda.

Forum chairman Sonny Tau, also the Te Runanga o Ngapuhi chairman, said unemployment was not discussed. He would not be drawn on why.

However, when he entered Mr Key said he was worried by the figures. He said that because of the way Maori businesses - which tended towards primary industries - were positioned, it was clear the global recession was having an impact.

"About 61 per cent of the Maori economy is exposed to international trade through their agriculture, fishing and forestry assets. That's nearly double what the Pakeha economy is, in terms of exposure. It just presents challenges."

Briefing papers from Ngai Tahu, Tainui, Ngapuhi, Ngati Whatua, Te Arawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa and others outlined Treaty settlements, commercial development and water as the big three issues iwi wanted movement on.

After the meeting, Tainui's Tuku Morgan said that employment was always a major issue for Maori. Iwi had asked Mr Key to make clear a path for commercial development. He reiterated the idea of more iwi being involved in direct investment in public infrastructure which was floated at Minister of Maori Affairs Dr Pita Sharples' economic hui last month.

"Trying to get our people into jobs is a huge issue for us. That's a commitment that each of the iwi have. [Investment is] a way of providing long-standing jobs for our people."

The iwi briefing papers said: "Some would see this as preferential treatment, but if the Crown is wishing to advance iwi participation then it will need a bit of pushing. It's all about advancing the economic interests beyond primary industry, fishing, forestry, tourism and property. The addition of infrastructure and utilities would round out the economic portfolios of iwi."

Iwi also praised the Treaty negotiations work of Labour's Dr Michael Cullen and because of his successes they asked that a special Treaty Cabinet committee led by the Prime Minister be set up with strong supporting roles for Finance Minister Bill English, and Dr Sharples.

For water the group had three proposals: that a Prime Minister's group and iwi meet quarterly to discuss water management and allocation initiatives; that the Crown agree water would not be privatised without iwi input; and that iwi be involved in the second stage of the Resource Management Act review which looked at water.