National and the Maori Party have rejected Labour leader Phil Goff's accusation that the Government has reopened racial wounds.

In a speech about nationhood at a Grey Power-hosted public meeting in Palmerston North today, Mr Goff said the country could celebrate its rich heritage or re-open wounds and divisions.

"We can choose our future based on principle and with the interests of all New Zealanders," he said.

"Or we can have a country where one New Zealander is turned against another, Maori against Pakeha, in a way that Labour strongly rejects."

Senior cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee told reporters Mr Goff's speech was "a masterpiece of confusion and hypocrisy".

"I think he's decided there are several parades in town and he's going to wave a flag at each of them and see whether anyone notices."

Maori Party leader Pita Sharples said Mr Goff's comments were "a very desperate move...let's hope he doesn't stir up something when there's nothing there".

In his speech, Mr Goff criticised Prime Minister John Key's handling of Maori Party MP Hone Harawira's actions when he sent an abusive email referring to white people as "motherf...ers" while defending an unauthorised trip to Paris while on parliamentary business last month.

"The true offence was that by abusing one racial group in New Zealand, he thought he could justify his side-trip off to Paris when his expenses were being paid by the taxpayer to fulfil his duties at the European Parliament," Mr Goff said.

"We cannot reconcile New Zealanders and make progress together in an environment where hatefulness can flourish, wherever it comes from."

He accused Mr Key of cynically holding back on criticising Mr Harawira so he could secure a political deal with the Maori Party over the emissions trading scheme (ETS), passed yesterday.

The Maori Party agreed to back the legislation in return for iwi, who considered the ETS undermined their treaty settlements, getting special rights to plant 35,000 hectares of Crown land and claim carbon credits worth an estimated $25 million to $50 million.

Mr Brownlee said Mr Key had been "extremely firm" about Mr Harawira's actions.

"Hone Harawira is an utter irrelevance," Mr Brownlee said.

"Why we're spending time on him I don't know...the prime minister doesn't start getting angst about a lowly backbencher of no account whatsoever."

Mr Goff said the Government had re-opened treaty settlements that were made full and final in the 90s by making a deal with iwi over the ETS.

The deal would not benefit all Maori and would burden New Zealanders, he said, and denied Labour's opposition was an example of "playing the race card".

However, he said by allowing some iwi to top up their settlements, as the Maori Party deal permitted, then grievances would not heal.

"If you can never settle treaty grievances, there can never be healing, and you keep alive a grievance from one age into another."

On the foreshore and seabed legislation, Mr Goff said reopening the debate was again cynical and was more about creating a perception of change than doing anything.

"It's hard to see why the country should be put through all the grief just to put a new brand on law that's working... Access to the beaches is a birthright for New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha alike and must be preserved."

Repealing the legislation would create uncertainty and create "opportunity for disputes to fester unresolved".

Dr Sharples said Mr Goff had no right to even talk about the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which was introduced by the previous Labour government.

"It's so easy for them to talk about it like it's just another bill when it caused such fury among Maori people," Dr Sharples said.

The Act is being reviewed and Labour has previously said it will work constructively with the Government.

- NZPA