Prime Minister John Key used his speech on Te Tii Marae to justify sending troops to train Iraqi forces after Maori Council head Maanu Paul questioned whether it was simply to please "the family" of Britain and the United States.

Speaking before Mr Key during the powhiri this morning, Mr Paul said the Maori Council was concerned Mr Key had indicated New Zealand would go to Iraq.

"We are a bit concerned that you might be putting the principle of protection for Maori at risk as you participate in the global problems and want to be a 'family' with the United States and England and other people like that."

Mr Key responded in his speech, saying he agreed New Zealand should not fight others' wars - but he also did not believe it should stand aside in such a case.

Advertisement

He accused those on the left of being hypocrites, saying they did not believe New Zealand should intervene despite criticising him for failing to speak out on human rights enough when overseas. He said they had also criticised him for his apparent ambivalence on apartheid.

"So the very people who tell me their whole DNA is laced with human rights and standing up for people who can't protect themselves tell me to look the other way when people are being beheaded by kids, burnt by kids and thrown off buildings. Well, sorry. Give me a break.

"New Zealand is not going to look the other way. We are not going to do silly things but we may join 60-odd countries around the world trying to protect people who can't protect themselves."

He said he had no intention of fighting Iraq's war "but I'm not going to turn the other way when people are being persecuted and say as a leader that it's other people's problem."

Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff rubbished Mr Key's claim that it was about human rights and said he was simply trying to please the United States. Mr Key had not intervened in countries such as Saudi Arabia. "Mr Key needs to be more straight forward and say he's doing this because 'the club' asked him to do it, not because of human rights."

He said New Zealand would be able to make very little difference by going into Iraq. "I am not prepared to support putting New Zealand lives at risk unless there are demonstrable outcomes."