The Maori aristocracy has turned a deaf ear to Paula Bennett's plea to them to stump up some of their own cash so abused kids could be placed in iwi rather than state care.

True to form, the tribal leaders haven't bothered themselves sufficiently to make a collective response to Bennett. (Although her office says she is going to explain her proposals further at the invitation of some individual iwi).

The young Cabinet minister went up in my estimation with her blunt message to the iwi leaders' group to "put your hands in your own pockets" to help find families who could take on children from within their own iwi "because the Government doesn't have the money for it right now, quite frankly".

After months of the Key government's craven behaviour towards all things which Maori are corruptly claiming as theirs - like the prized and mineral-rich foreshore and seabed which we all own as Kiwis - it was refreshing to see a Cabinet minister give the tribal chiefs a rev-up.

Ngati Kahu chairwoman Professor Margaret Mutu - one of the more disturbingly remote leaders - said Bennett's suggestion that iwi provide funding and resources was ridiculous.

"We can't. We don't have them. It's a state responsibility. We know how bad it is. We know the helplessness and hopelessness of it, and that we are the only ones who can save ourselves. But we also need resources and the support of the state to do that."

This display of "learned helplessness" from a university professor is deeply worrying. Or does Mutu cling to an outdated belief that only tribal elites - like herself - are capable of bettering themselves?

I very much doubt it. Mutu is one of eight tribal chairs who are very much focused on playing a double game to get ownership of a considerable lump of those assets that are either owned by the Crown on behalf of all New Zealanders - such as the foreshore and seabed - or are tucked up in state-owned enterprises. Or have yet to roll off the Government's drawing boards.

It is indeed true that child-abuse deaths for Maori were on a par with the rest of New Zealand in the mid-1980s. It is also true that Maori jobs vanished out of this economy as the 1980s Labour government demolished the railways, post office and forestry departments of that era.

But the Treaty of Waitangi settlements have also ensured a considerable shift of cash and assets into tribal hands since that time.

A couple of weeks ago I listened in as the head of Ngai Tahu's property company told a bunch of fascinated infrastructure investors how the South Island tribe had grown its portfolio from $2 million to $450 million since 1994.

Tony Sewell (a Pakeha) presented on Ngai Tahu's behalf because its chairman, Mark Solomon, pulled out at the last minute.

The basic gist was that Maori were - contrary to myth-making - relatively rich at a collective level. Maori equity could be as much as $25 billion - although much of it was passive investments tied up in trusts.

Ngai Tahu was itself focused on building an inter-generational portfolio. Their perspective was a 50- to 200-year horizon. But the aim was to have $1 billion under management within a relatively short space of time.

Maori were a pivotal part of "NZ Inc" - major shareholders in dairy giant Fonterra, pastoral farming and the fishing industry and about to be in the preferred position when this Government gets around to sealing the deals on public-private partnerships.

"Collective capitalism is the future, it is our past, it will deliver our potential and now is the hour," was the mantra on the forum's website when it hosted yet another gabfest on how Maori can become major infrastructure investors in New Zealand. Don't get me wrong here.

I am not against Maori having a slice of the pie. What I don't like is the notion which is increasingly prevalent in Government departments that Maori should be in some sort of preferred position because the assets - whether new infrastructure or a slice of an existing Government asset - will always remain in New Zealand ownership and be held for the longer term.

The message Maori are making to the smart money is this: pony-up with us if you want a slice of the Government pie. At a superficial level - the same level which persuaded the Cabinet that our foreshore and seabed should be confiscated by statute and tucked into a nebulous public domain - this is attractive.

It enables ministers to free up some cash for other purposes, knowing that they have some inbuilt cheerleaders in the form of Maori who will clearly be in accord with any move that is in their commercial interest.

It's obvious that Maori are playing a very long-term inter-generational game. But it is time Solomon, Mutu et al took their eyes off the asset grab and exerted some leadership in the interests of the current Maori generation.