A bill making it harder to remove the Māori seats from Parliament has been voted down by MPs, with New Zealand First opposing the change.

Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill, in the name of Labour Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene, would have meant the seats would have been entrenched in electoral law, requiring 75 per cent of MPs to vote to get rid of them in the future.

Other parts of the Electoral Act are subject to a 75 per cent majority before they can be changed, including terms of Parliament and the part providing for the general seats.

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Tirikatene said he had wanted the Māori seats to be given the same status.

"The fact is that our Māori electorate seats in Parliament are a taonga," he told the House during his speech last week.

"Surely, in this day and age — in 2019 — why shouldn't Māori electorate seats have the same protection as general seats?"

But with only Labour and the Green Party supporting the legislation on Wednesday, it failed to pass its second reading in the House.

The bill cleared its first hurdle in Parliament last year with the unlikely support of New Zealand First, which opposes the Māori seats.

Labour Party MP Rino Tirikatene who represents the Te Tai Tonga electorate says Māori electorate seats are a taonga. Photo / Jason Walls.
Labour Party MP Rino Tirikatene who represents the Te Tai Tonga electorate says Māori electorate seats are a taonga. Photo / Jason Walls.

The party wanted to use the bill as a vehicle to hold a two-part referendum on the seats, asking whether they should be entrenched or done away with altogether.

But no referendum was added after the select committee stage and NZ First voted against the bill this week.

Speaking against the bill, National's Tim MacIndoe told the House said there was no risk of the seats being removed.

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"I do believe that a strong Māori voice is necessary in public debate and to achieve sound governance, so I do not argue for the abolition of Māori seats, but nor would I ever vote to entrench them," he said.

"We believe it would be very strange and unjustified to do so when other important aspects of our electoral system are not entrenched, such as the number of MPs in total or our MMP process for list seats allocation, the 5 per cent threshold, and so on."

The Māori seats were first established in 1867. There are currently seven Māori electorates.