National's deputy leader Paula Bennett says she found comments made by a minister in the House yesterday, questioning her Māori heritage, racist.

Yesterday, in a speech during Parliament's general debate, Minister of Employment and Associate Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson took aim at the Māori members of the National Party and called them "useless".

He outlined a few Māori who he said were "the good ones" but said that "the rest were useless".

"Paula Bennett - well, she doesn't know if she's a Māori. Some days she does and some days she doesn't. Dan Bidois - he needs to go back to Italy. And Jo Hayes - Jo wouldn't have a clue," Jackson said.


Jackson's comments were slammed by Bennett who today called them "without a doubt" racist.

"It's kind of like saying if we're not like you, and fully entrenched and able to speak the language, then in your mind, we're lesser Māori – I don't think that's necessary," she told media after question time.

"It's Parliament, it can get pretty robust. But I think to be calling in if you like, whether we're Māori enough is just really unnecessary."

Bennett said she was usually "pretty robust and I don't care too much" but she did worry about the message it sent to others.

In the House today, Bennett asked a number of pointed questions about Jackson's involvement in the Government's Mana in Mahi programme – an initiative designed to support getting young people into full-time work.

"How does he [Jackson] determine whether the Māori in the Mana in Mahi programme are Māori enough to be counted?" she asked after Jackson said of the 143 clients have been placed in the programme 75 participants – some 52 per cent – identify as Māori.

"The reality is that I have total respect for Māori, whether they speak the language, whether they were brought up in a Pākehā environment, Asian environment. If they choose to whakapapa to Māori, like the good member, I respect her and any other Māori," he told the House.

Speaking to media on his way out of Question Time, NZ First Leader – and Deputy Prime Minister – Winston Peters said Bennett's claim that Jackson was being racist was "ridiculous".


He also said the press gallery should "get a sense of humour" when pressed on the issue.

MP for Tāmaki Makaurau and Whānau Ora and Youth Minister Peeni Henare backed Jackson this afternoon.

In his view "blood quantum simply isn't enough" when it comes to being Māori.

"I've always felt that you have to reach a threshold of need, participation and contribution in Māori Kaupapa. If you don't, of course, questions are going to be raised."

He said he was "more than happy" for those questions to be raised of anybody who claims to be Māori who does not meet that threshold.

Henare said he had not seen Bennett's contribution to the community or to Māori Kaupapa.

"I haven't seen her [Bennett] on the marae; I haven't seen her dry dishes, I haven't seen her do a karanga – therefore, it should be raised as a question."