John Key helped the Maori Party throw a $5000-a-seat fundraiser at which diners at the event were promised the chance to "chat confidentially" with the Prime Minister.

The invitation for the event at Auckland's exclusive and private Northern Club told "15 specially selected leaders" that "John Key will change seats so that you will be on either side of him or directly opposite for ease of conversation".

The Maori Party's two ministers, Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples, were also present at the April 2 four-course dinner, as was co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

Attending the event cost a minimum of $5000-a-head and has been described as inviting accusations of "selling access" to the Prime Minister. Maori Television's Native Affairs discovered the meeting and is screening footage of guests arriving on its show this evening.


Mr Key's office is defending it. A spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has attended a number of functions for the Maori Party and the other parties we have relationships with. It doesn't signify any deal, it simply illustrates a good relationship with parties we work with."

She said the wording of the invitation was a matter for the Maori Party but Mr Key was "comfortable" with it. "At fundraising events the PM often changes seats in order to meet as many people as possible."

And the Maori Party is also defending the arrangement.

Maori Party president Naida Glavish said it showed the close relationship with the National Party.

"We were having a fundraiser and asked if he would be a dinner speaker. That's all it was. That just signifies to use the generosity of John Key."

She said it showed closeness between the parties but did not shut out coalition options this election.

"As far as the Maori Party and National, we are sitting at the table of government. If someone else was the government, we would still be asking to sit at the table of government."

Ms Glavish said seating was changed to move Mr Key around but that others were also moved. "We can't control who he speaks to after the dinner." Asked if the $5000 "donation" price tag was a lot of money, she said: "It is for some."


"That is the sort of fundraising we need to do to financially prepare ourselves for the upcoming election."

Labour leader David Cunliffe said he would not comment. "That is a matter for National and the Maori Party to defend - if they can."

Otago University political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said the deal would feed the belief opponents pushed that the Maori Party was "too close to National and not independent enough".

"It's that criticism they have become a rich boys clubs," he said. The venue of the Northern Club also played into that - "it makes them look elitist".

"These people are pretty vulnerable to the criticism they are selling access to the people making the political decisions in New Zealand. I think it goes down very badly with the public."

* Native Affairs in on Maori Television at 8.30pm tonight.