Key Points:

Prime Minister John Key will support flying a Maori flag from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, but says it will be up to Maori to decide.

Mr Key said that provided Maori were consulted and the meaning of the flag was agreed upon, he has no problem with flying the Tino Rangatiratanga flag from the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.

"It is another small symbolic step in partnership towards the Treaty," Mr Key said today.

Asked if all New Zealanders would be consulted on the flag Mr Key said "no".

"New Zealanders take pride that as a country we are doing well in race relations and this is just another step," Mr Key said.

Mr Key told a press conference he had informed Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples of his views.

But he said that because consultation needed to take place, it was not likely to fly on Waitangi Day in 2009.

Dr Sharples, the Maori Affairs minister, earlier said he 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.

"I want the flag up there," Dr Sharples said on Saturday. "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.

The Transport 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.

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