Two big iwi leaders met with Prime Minister John Key to discuss state assets sales today.

Waikato-Tainui's Tuku Morgan and Ngai Tahu's Mark Solomon met with Mr Key, who was in Gisborne attending the national Te Matatini kapa haka competition.

Mr Key said the iwi leaders wanted a general discussion about how they might invest if the government floated 49 per cent of state-owned assets.

He wouldn't be drawn on whether tribes such as Ngai Tahu or Tainui, which have assets worth around $1 billion collectively, would receive preferential treatment.

"Look, preferential treatment is going to be for New Zealanders and so that's what we're seeking advice from the Treasury about - how we can prioritise New Zealanders to the front of the queue."

However, many Maori had Kiwisaver accounts and could benefit through their fund's investment, he said.

Ngapuhi's Sonny Tau was supposed to attend the meeting but missed a flight. He said that the iwi chairs forum wanted to get the government to "committ" to recognising iwi as preferred partners when it came to asset sales for one simple reason:

"We're not going anywhere, we're here forever."

He said changes to the foreshore and seabed legislation [Marine and Coastal Areas Bill] was also on the agenda - the three iwi chairs had concerns about the prohibitive test thresholds which say that groups must prove exclusive and uninterrupted occupation since 1840.

If Act "a party with no credibility in parliament" could get a late amendment to the bill then there was no reason continued iwi chair lobbying couldn't achieve changes either, Mr Tau said.

Te Runanga o Ngati Porou chairman Api Mahuika said he was invited to attend the iwi meeting but the competition was too important and he had reservations about the group's mandate.

Mr Key arrived earlier in the day to watch Dr Pita Sharples, who has perfomed at every compeition since it began in 1972, lead Te Ropu Manutaki onstage.

There was no going past his own Minister of Maori Affairs' group as a favourite to take the top title, Mr Key reckoned.

"Outstanding. Clearly he's been doing more time practising his kapa haka than he has on his ministerial duties, because he was looking sharp and he obviously lost a bit of weight since Christmas too. I think he's a bit worried about his puku."