The term has predictably been mocked by sc' />

Much has been made of the "mana-enhancing relationship" National and the Maori Party have established.

The term has predictably been mocked by sceptics - "How mana enhancing is that?" Labour asked when the Maori Party's agreement on confidence and supply forced it to support tax cuts it did not believe helped low-income Maori.

There were similar sneers when National introduced its 90-day probationary period for workers, and - on the other side of the relationship - after Hone Harawira's public support for his relatives facing court charges after Prime Minister John Key was jostled at Waitangi.

The Maori Party held its tongue.

It became clear why when the two Maori Party co-leaders, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, found out what their new responsibilities as associate ministers were last week.

The announcement of the delegated responsibilities was barely noticed at the time. But for the Maori Party, it delivered the mana it was waiting for.

Up to that point, much of the focus on the Maori Party's agreement had been on constitutional issues - the review of seabed and foreshore, Mr Key's decision to allow a Maori flag to fly on Waitangi Day.

But as fundamental as constitutional issues are to the party, it is on the social side of the ledger that it will be judged - particularly at a time when Maori are vulnerable to the economic downturn. The delegated responsibilities give it a chance to address these issues.

The list is extensive and, critically, delivers distinct areas of responsibility and funding in social policy that affect the lives of Maori people.

Among them, Tariana Turia has taken on responsibility for Maori and Pacific employment as well as the Government's overall strategy on family violence.

In health, her focus includes provider development. But wider responsibilities include sexual health, diabetes, tobacco, communicable diseases and breast and cervical screening.

Pita Sharples is expected to find ways to address Maori over-representation in crime, as well as more effective rehabilitation of Maori offenders. In an area dear to his heart, he gets responsibilities for Maori education such as kohanga reo and kura kaupapa.

In some ways these areas are more significant than their main ministerial portfolios of Maori Affairs for Pita Sharples and the Community and Voluntary sector for Tariana Turia.

Mrs Turia has long talked about her desire to see government money spent on Maori by Maori. What was delivered in the delegated responsibilities is as close to a "partnership" as she could have hoped, giving the party substantial responsibilities for how money is spent on delivering to Maori.

That carries some risk. Trying to deal with the social ills that beset Maori - family violence, tobacco, diabetes, crime and rehabilitation - is now down in the names of Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples.

The challenge for the Maori Party is to deliver in areas it has long accused others of failing in.

The expectation they must perform in these areas is crystal clear. To Mrs Turia falls the task not only of "addressing" family violence but of "reducing the impact" of it.

Mr Key puts a premium on performance - and his support parties are not exempt.

He will also expect Maori ministers to toe the same line of accountability for how public money is spent, and Mrs Turia has already begun the process of measuring the effectiveness of each dollar.

By giving the Maori Party exactly what was asked for, Mr Key has put his faith in them to deliver on it.

It does not absolve National from responsibility, especially in funding and supporting the ministers.

Money will be allocated in the Budget - and Maori Party co-leaders have been warned and acknowledge the economic downturn will make it more a case of how it is spent, rather than how much there is.

Often associate minister responsibilities are simply a minister trying to offload insignificant parts of a main portfolio. But those awarded to the Maori Party show National is paying more than lip service to its agreement with them.

Some cans of worms have been safely pushed to the back of the cupboard, at least for the time being. The Maori seats and status of the seabed and foreshore law will be bedded down in reviews for a while.

However, others are becoming apparent. The most immediate is whether National will agree to the three Maori seats the Royal Commission recommended for the Auckland council, two elected by the Maori roll and one appointed by a "mana whenua" forum set up to advise the new council.

There is also the question of whether the Government will follow the lead of Australia, which yesterday agreed to formally support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. New Zealand remains one of three countries - including the United States - not to have done so.

There is an acute awareness within the Maori Party of the need to "stocktake" to ensure it is not "going soft" as Hone Harawira would put it.

It comes in the weekly caucus meetings when the backbench MPs and party president Whatarangi Winiata can raise their eyebrows unobserved by outsiders.

In the public eye, Mr Harawira will perhaps be the best barometer for the party on when it is straying. He is the most uncomfortable with the relationship, although his suspicion would apply regardless of dealing with National or Labour. He has maintained a distance.

The two co-leaders are more constrained than before because of the confidentiality clauses that bind them in their agreement. The backbenchers are not and it is here that Mr Harawira is a critical link with the more radical support base and a safety valve against accusations the party has sold out.

But despite its origins in heat and anger, the Maori Party has a deep core of pragmatism driven by Mrs Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell, and accepted by the more idealistic MPs such as Dr Sharples and Mr Harawira.

They've had some victories, sometimes to their surprise, such as the Maori flag. But they know they can't win them all and that while National's supporters have been delighted by the relationship, they can be pushed only so far on matters of core principle. Hence John Key's immediate stake in the ground over ensuring public access to the foreshore and seabed when announcing the review team. He must decide soon on the Auckland council seats - but he knows it could push National's supporters beyond what they are comfortable with.

The clauses allowing the parties to agree to disagree work both ways. The Maori Party has made the most of its freedom to do so and knows National has its own constituency to look after.

But those who think natural differences make the relationship too fragile to withstand such disagreements need only look to these associate portfolio responsibilities.

In them is the licence for a Maori way in the party's key "whanau ora" [family wellbeing] social policy areas, such as health and education.

It would take a great deal for the Maori Party to jeopardise that. For the time being at least, it is enough to fight without winning.

The Maori Party also knows that battles it can't win today will be fought again in the future.