By AUDREY YOUNG political editor

Prime Minister Helen Clark will make her first appearance at a formal Crown apology in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement ceremony tomorrow.

But she dismissed a suggestion that it was part of a Labour move to increase its visibility to counter the rise of the Maori Party.

A poll published yesterday suggests that the Maori Party, led by Labour defector Tariana Turia, is making inroads into the Auckland and youth vote and shows a dive in support for Labour among the young.

Helen Clark will attend a marae near Wellsford to deliver the apology as part of the settlement to the Te Uri o Hau hapu (sub-tribe).

"This has been on the agenda for many, many months," she said.

"It is the only such ceremony I have attended.

"That is because this particular marae and hapu are very important to us [Labour]."

The hapu had been loyal to Labour and had supplied two MPs for northern Maori - Paraire (Friday) Paikea from 1938 to 1934, and his son, Tapihana Paraire (Dobbie) Paikea, from 1943 to 1963.

"We retain a very close relationship with this hapu and these people," she said.

"That is the reason I am going. I have been to this marae at least twice before, possibly three times."

She urged caution in interpreting the National Business Review- Phillips Fox poll, conducted by UMR Research.

It had Labour down four points to 37 per cent, National up slightly to 40.3 per cent - and the Maori Party at 2.7 per cent overall (up from 1.7 in June) but with 5.2 per cent in Auckland and 6.7 per cent among voters aged under 30.

It put the Maori Party virtually even in Auckland with New Zealand First and the Greens.

Labour's support among under 30s dived from 43.1 per cent in June to 28.9 per cent.

"It is very risky to draw any deductions from such small numbers," Helen Clark said.

She said she looked at the monthly numbers from time to time but they were of little interest.

"Over the long term, Labour's support is generally strong among young voters. In small samples, one-off, one month, you can't read anything into it."

Mrs Turia said yesterday she was elated at the poll result because the party had tried to emphasise the importance of youth.

"And it's pleasing that the message is taken in Auckland, because one of the accusations against us is that we are iwi fundamentalists."

Maori people were seeing the party as including them and other people.

Mrs Turia, who won the Te Tai Hauauru seat back in a byelection two weeks ago, will be sworn in as an MP on Tuesday.

If an election were held today based on the poll - and assuming Mrs Turia, United Future's Peter Dunne, Progressive Jim Anderton and New Zealand First's Winston Peters retain their seats - Labour would not be able to form a Government without the support of at least the Maori Party or NZ First.

Mrs Turia said yesterday that no one from the Government had approached her about the first confidence vote, which is a Budget estimates vote on Thursday.

"My gut feeling is to vote with the Government," she said.

But she would consult co-leader Pita Sharples and president Whatarangi Winiata.

She also said she would be likely to give her proxy vote to the Green Party to cast in her absence.

"They have been incredibly supportive to me."

The party had a two-day hui on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss strategy and policy.

"We don't want to be the same as everybody else."

The movement was about strengthening Maori "to make ourselves as independent as we can of Government".

"Most of us have been through the system, so we think like the system and it has been quite difficult for us to turn our thinking around."

Mrs Turia has been invited to attend a Tainui hui in Pukekohe today.

* The poll results: National 40.3 per cent; Labour 37 per cent; Greens 6 per cent; New Zealand First 5 per cent; United Future 2.8 per cent; Maori Party 2.7 per cent; Act 2.2 per cent; Progressives 0.8 per cent.

Herald Feature: Maori issues

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