Labour leader Andrew Little has watered down his comments about exploring greater Maori self-governance, referring today to examples such as co-governance of waterways rather than allowing Maori to legislate and govern themselves.

On Waitangi Day, Mr Little criticised Mr Key for dismissing a Waitangi Tribunal report that found Ngapuhi chiefs had not ceded their sovereignty by signing the Treaty.

Mr Little said that report found Maori had retained their ability to govern themselves, including law making abilities. While that was "highly problematic" it should be talked about.

Prime Minister John Key says Andrew Little's comments at Waitangi on Maori sovereignty were advancing "separatism."

At the time, Mr Little cited examples such as the Native American tribes in the United States which have some law making powers within their territories. He believed more opportunities could be found for Maori self-governance, provided it did not imperil New Zealand's status as a sovereign nation.

Advertisement

Mr Little said this morning he did not necessarily support self-governance by Maori but it was important to find out what Ngapuhi wanted and how it would work in practice.

He cited examples such as the co-governance of the Waikato River and Waikaremoana.

"It's not about abandoning what we've got now, it's not about abandoning the fully-functioning democratic country we've got. It's about doing what we've always done under the Treaty. That is rising to the occasion, sitting down and talking and coming up with sensible solutions."

Mr Key described Mr Little's initial suggestions as "separatist." He dismissed suggestions that National had effectively given Tuhoe some self-governance in the provisions of the Tuhoe settlement, which included increasing Tuhoe control over Te Urewera park. Mr Key said that amounted to shared governance rather than self-governance.

Mr Little said Mr Key was "playing a political game" by talking about separatism. He said Mr Key was showing weak leadership by simply dismissing the Waitangi Tribunal report.

"You can't just ignore things under the Treaty."