A bill entrenching the Māori seats into New Zealand electoral law – requiring a 75 per cent majority of Parliament to get rid of them - has passed its first reading in Parliament because it was supported by New Zealand First, which opposes the Māori seats.

But the chances of it surviving all stages of Parliament are remote.

The Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill in the name of Labour's Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene would have failed at the first hurdle if New Zealand First, Labour's coalition partner, had not supported it.

New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball said the party believed the issue of the Māori seats should be put to a binding public referendum and the bill was an opportunity to do that.

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He said later that the referendum would be on entrenching the seats or abolishing the seats. If the party could not get that amendment passed it would not support the bill.

With just Labour and Green support, the bill would not survive but having passed its first reading, the issue will get a public hearing at select committee.

Tirikatene said it was a small but significant bill.

"It cuts to the heart of the representation and the status of the Māori seats in this House."

He said the general seats could be abolished only by a 75 per cent majority but the Māori seats could be abolished by a simple majority.

"There is an imbalance there and my bill seeks to raise us to an equal standard with the general seats."

Tirikatene said he wanted Māori seats to be given the same protection as general seats.

Other provisions of the Electoral Act subject to a 75 per cent majority before they can be changed are the term of Parliament; the setting up of the Representation Commission; the part providing for the general seats and the division of New Zealand into electorates; allowances for population unders and overs in electorates; voting age; and MMP.

National electoral spokesman Nick Smith said New Zealand First had set a new standard for hypocrisy in campaigning to abolish the Māori seats but supporting a bill that entrenched them.

"The New Zealand First policy to abolish the Māori seats was announced as a bottom line of the party by [leader] Winston Peters who described them as 'separatism'."

Smith predicted that New Zealand First's amendment to be put in the later stages will not be accepted under the rules of the House because it is so far removed from the intent of the bill.

The Māori seats were first established 150 years ago.

Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First supported the bill with 63 votes in favour and National and Act opposed the bill, with 57.