Key Points:

New Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples will ask ministers in the National Government to support a request for the Maori flag to be flown above the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.

Dr Sharples said he would raise it with other ministers when MPs returned this month - despite John Key's refusal to support such a step when he was leader of the Opposition.

"I want the flag up there," Dr Sharples said. "I think it's a symbol of the new direction this Government is taking by inviting the Maori Party to be part of it."

It is a debate which has plagued politicians and the agency which decides which flags fly on the Harbour Bridge, and has divided public opinion.

The Transport Agency's policy allows only the New Zealand flag to fly from the bridge, but Maori say flying the Tino Rangatiratanga flag would raise awareness of the part Maori play in the country.

Dr Sharples said the Maori group Te Ata Tino Toa had asked him to support its application for the flag to be flown this year and he would push for an exception to the Transport Agency's policy of allowing only the New Zealand flag to fly.

"It's a coming together and putting the Tino Rangatiratanga flag up alongside the New Zealand flag shows a willingness by New Zealand to recognise the bicultural nature of our foundation which is recognised on Waitangi Day," he said.

"That's all it's about. They can take it down after Waitangi Day."

Despite the support arrangement between the Maori Party and National, Dr Sharples could struggle to get support from the Government.

Transport Minister, Steven Joyce said yesterday he was happy with the current policy as making exceptions would lead to others asking for similar treatment.

The Transport Agency should be focusing on running the transport system, "and not trying to work out which flag to display on which bridge on any particular day".





The agency's policy since 2007 to allow only the New Zealand flag on the Harbour Bridge replaced a policy which allowed the flags of other nations recognised by New Zealand.

Te Ata Tino Toa's attempts to have the flag flown on Waitangi Day were repeatedly rejected under this policy, as the flag was not a national emblem.

Under the previous Government, Maori Affairs minister Parekura Horomia, Transport Minister Annette King and Prime Minister Helen Clark refused to support it. But they indicated the policy could change if there was sufficient public support.

Prime Minister John Key was on holiday and could not be contacted.

Last year, the group settled for driving across the bridge with flags on its vehicles and asking other organisations to fly the flag.

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