The Government is seeking a "workable solution" with Ngati Whatua over plans to develop huge tracts of land in Auckland, after two more iwi spoke out against the Crown's treatment of the Auckland tribe.
Ngati Whatua o Orakei is expected to decide this week whether it will take the Government to court over the decision not to grant it right of first refusal on up to 500ha of Crown land earmarked for housing. Two other large iwi, Waikato-Tainui and Ngai Tahu, have echoed Ngati Whatua's concerns.
Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key reiterated the Government's position that right-of-first-refusal rules were only triggered when the state no longer had a need for the land.
But he said Housing Minister Nick Smith planned to meet the Tamaki Collective - which includes Ngati Whatua - to discuss the issue. A hui had been scheduled for Sunday and all 13 iwi from the collective had been invited.
Mr Key said: "Who knows what might come out the other end but there might be a workable solution that benefits everybody."
Asked whether some of the Auckland land would be offered to Ngati Whatua, he said: "Not necessarily that. But there might be another way through the issue."
Several Maori leaders said the Government acted in bad faith by not offering the land to Auckland iwi ahead of private developers from New Zealand and overseas.
Rahui Papa, who chairs Waikato-Tainui's executive committee Te Arataura, said the Government's plan to "circumvent" the right-of-first-refusal (RFR) mechanism undermined the Crown's Treaty settlement with the Waikato iwi and damaged their relationship.
"The RFR process was established as a way in which Waikato-Tainui could buy back land that had been confiscated," he said. "In total, 1.2 million acres was taken and a paltry 2 per cent returned. Clearly the RFR mechanism is an important and fundamental element of the settlement."
Mr Papa said he had written to Dr Smith to seek clarification before considering further action. Dr Smith's office said the minister had not yet considered Mr Papa's letter.
Ngai Tahu said its right of first refusal had been breached several times when the Conservation Department carried out land swaps with private landowners.
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said the Government was morally obliged to offer the land to Ngati Whatua ahead of developers. "As we predicted, this would have ramifications for many iwi if the Government do not hold up their end by ensuring that iwi are consulted and given right of first refusal over what is now available land."
Ngati Whatua called in its lawyers last week after Dr Smith said that the Crown's Treaty deal with Auckland iwi allowed surplus land to be sold off - without consulting iwi - if it was held for state housing.