NZ First leader Winston Peters has dismissed suggestions of a revolt in his ranks over the Maori seats, but said he will reveal soon whether his proposed referendum on the future of the seats would be for all voters or for Maori.

Peters announced plans to hold a binding referendum on the future of the seats at his party's annual conference - a shift from the 2014 position which favoured abolishing the seats but leaving it to Maori themselves to decide when.

That was assumed to be a referendum of all voters - but Peters is now hinting that may not be the case.

Asked about recent comments by both candidate Shane Jones and NZ First MP Pita Paraone about leaving the fate of the seats to Maori voters, Peters said he believed it should be up to Maori.


However, as well as Maori on the Maori roll, there were also Maori on the general roll and those who were not enrolled at all to consider.

All three were entitled to vote on the Maori roll.

"Of course it should be up to Maori to decide if the seats go, but I'm making a speech about it very shortly and I will tell you the full parameters of that.

"I've heard what has been said by people who have interviewed Pita and maybe others, and the question is whether it is full conscription and I'll have that answer in a speech I'm giving shortly."

Peters said Maori voters were leaving the Maori seats in their droves and the majority of Maori were on the general roll rather than Maori roll.

However, Electoral Commission statistics show 55 per cent are on the Maori roll and 45 per cent on the general roll.

They also show that in each Maori electoral option far more Maori have switched from the general to the Maori roll than vice versa - and new enrolments also favour the Maori roll by a significant margin.

After the last electoral option in 2013, there were 228,718 Maori on the Maori roll and 184,630 on the general roll.


Jones and Paraone are both on the Maori roll.

Peters rejected any suggestion Jones had broken the party line by saying it should be left to Maori, saying Jones made his comments based on the party's 2014 policy without knowing it was about to change.

"Nothing he said was in conflict with that and he made the point he was going with what he understood the manifesto position to be and he was 100 per cent right. He is not guilty of any sin at all on this score."

Paraone said he had advocated for a referendum of Maori on the Maori roll only, but accepted the decision caucus made.

"I'd like to see that it's left to the Maori voters to make that decision, but the announcement has been made."

Jones said he would leave it to Paraone to comment on the issue as NZ First's Maori Affairs spokesman. "I abide by the caucus policy."

He was on the Maori roll in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate, which meant he could not vote for himself as a candidate in the Whangarei electorate but he would change to the general roll for 2020. Maori can only switch between the two rolls during the Maori electoral option after each Census. The last was in 2013 and the next after the 2018 Census.

It is not the first time Paraone has argued against the party line on the seats - in 2003 Paraone urged the party to review its decision not to stand in the Maori seats.

NZ First won all the Maori electorates in 1996 only to lose them again in 1999. In 2002, Peters announced the party would not stand in the seats because they had become symbolic of separate development and sidelined Maori.

The Maori Party and Mana leader Hone Harawira have called for the seats to be entrenched so they are better protected and Labour has said it will not agree to a referendum on the seats.

Until 2008, National had advocated abolishing the seats altogether, but that was put on ice as part of the agreement with the Maori Party.