Key Points:

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is refusing to be drawn into the debate in New Zealand about his plans to stamp out child abuse in aboriginal territories.

During an interview with Maori television, Maori Party MP Hone Harawira called the Australian leader a "racist bastard".

"John Howard is a racist bastard, imposing racist policies on a people who are not in a position to fight back," Mr Harawira said.

Mr Howard's office has refused to comment on the accusations.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said he was not in a position to say whether the comment was appropriate.

"You've got people over there calling it racist, calling it a land grab," he said on Radio New Zealand.

"What he's saying is actually what the Aboriginal leaders are saying."

Prime Minister Helen Clark has described Mr Harawira's description of Mr Howard as "regrettable".

She said through a spokeswoman that Mr Howard had been a good friend to New Zealand and she was concerned that any MP from any party would lash out in that way.

Mr Howard's government's plans to tackle poverty and abuse against women and children in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territories include bans on alcohol and pornography.

They will also put extra police and troops into remote areas, restrict access to welfare payments and abolish the system which requires people to gain permits to enter remote communities.

Some aboriginal groups claim the Howard Government is using the child abuse crisis as a cover to take control of mineral assets.

National's foreign affairs spokesman, Murray McCully, said it wouldn't do anything to improve New Zealand's relations with Australia.

"They have elections every three years to sort out domestic politics in that country. They don't need the advice of the Maori Party in New Zealand to help them along," he said.

Green Party MP Keith Locke agreed with Mr Harawira's use of the term racist.

"John Howard's policy towards Aboriginals, particularly in the Northern Territory, is racist in the sense that he's saying is that alcohol and literature which is legal for the population as a whole will be essentially illegal for Aboriginal people, and that is racist," Mr Locke said.

- NEWSTALK ZB, NZPA