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John Key hasn't made many mistakes since becoming Prime Minister in November - and those that he has made haven't mattered much anyway.

That changed this week with his mishandling of a possible Maori Party visit to Fiji.

It has reinforced his inexperience in foreign affairs and made the Maori Party appear subservient to National.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia mentioned on TV One on Sunday that co-leader Pita Sharples was thinking of leading a small delegation to meet Commodore Frank Bainimarama - Fiji's ruler since the December 2006 coup - along with Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu te Hehuheu and King Tuheitia.

She is not without sin. In the perfect no-surprises partnership, something as sensitive as that would have been run past the other partner.

Turia acknowledged on Sunday it would require the approval of the PM (he gets to approve all overseas travel including private trips).

On Sunday Key responded quickly saying a visit by Sharples would be okay so long as it was in a private capacity as Maori Party co-leader and not as a minister representing the Government.

On Monday he had had a change of heart. He said he had talked to Sharples, that he had agreed New Zealand had to have one voice on the issue of Fiji and that he did not believe Sharples would be going to Fiji.

On Tuesday, it became very untidy: Sharples said he might still go and Key said he would stop Sharples from going if he went ahead.

It would be helpful if the Prime Minister had one voice, as well. It should not have taken him long on Sunday to realize that such a trip by Sharples would be problematic for perceptions of Government unity, at the very least.

Maybe Key's biggest mistake was not to talk to foreign Minister Murray McCully before okaying the trip on Sunday. It is hard to imagine that McCully would have done anything other than counsel him against it.

Key fluffed it on Fiji a few weeks back when he said in response to a question that New Zealand would consider sending troops to Fiji if the United Nations requested it - one of those things you don't say in Government, or Opposition.

But this is a bigger deal. It is not about New Zealand's relationship with Fiji; it is about National's relationship with the Maori Party.

The Maori Party and National have prided themselves on their relationship, promoting it as a partnership. Now it looks as though Key can tell the Maori Party what to do and that is the opposite of mana-enhancing.

The party is almost duty-bound now to send its own private group to Fiji to show it is an independent party and president Whatarangi Winiata will likely lead it.

Scotty Morrison on Te Karere last night said it all: "Will you bow to the wish of John Key?" he asked MP Hone Harawira. "We will go if we want to," Harawira replied.

The relationship between National and the Maori Party appears strong and this should not have lasting damage - unless there are more examples of this sort of problem. You wouldn't want too many of them.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and Prime Minister John Key. Photos / Hawkes Bay Today and Herald on Sunday.