Senior Cabinet Minister Kelvin Davis is being accused of "atrocious" and disrespectful behaviour after he was challenged over the Government's duty to honour Treaty of Waitangi obligations.
But Davis has rejected that, saying the criticism comes from an industry training organisation that he simply disagreed with.
Sam Napia, the chair of Skills Active, said he had a meeting with Davis in April over the Government's proposed overhaul of the vocational education sector.
Napia said that the Government's process failed to honour treaty obligations, and he raised the prospect of a Waitangi Tribunal claim with Davis, the Associate Education Minister and Minister for Māori-Crown Relations.
"Upon describing all this, the Associate Minister leaned across the table, looked at me and said, 'Go for it,'" Napia said.
"Really? Is that how you express good faith, a Minister of the Crown saying 'Go for it'?
"That's the same kind of sentiment that Māori have been oppressed under for 200 years, but to be expressed as recently as April this year by a Minister of the Crown is atrocious."
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Asked to respond, Davis told the Herald: "No, response whatsoever. I totally disagree with their stance."
He said the Government had honoured its treaty obligations, but Skills Active had a different view.
"I certainly told them what I thought about their position."
Skills Active has already challenged the reforms in court, arguing that the process lacked natural justice, but its application for a judicial review was thrown out.
It has put claims before the Waitangi Tribunal, but those have been put on hold pending the passage of the bill.
Napia and other Skills Active colleagues appeared before the Parliament's education select committee today, which is considering the Vocational Education and Training Reform bill.
The bill would overhaul the sector, create a central institute to oversee training that is tailored to industry and regional needs, and turn existing polytechnics and institutes of technology into subsidiaries of the central institute.
The role of industry training organisations - including Skills Active - would fall to other entities, including workforce development councils.
The transition would take years and many employees in the sector would need to reapply for work under the new model.
After the committee hearing, Napia told the Herald that the tribunal claims were about the Government's failure to uphold its treaty obligations, including in the consultation and design process.
"A Labour-led coalition that professes to be Māori-friendly - for a Labour-led coalition to do that, frankly, is astounding."
He said Skills Active was one of a kind in offering marae-based training that had led to educational outcomes for Māori that were the same if not better than for non-Māori.
But Davis said Skills Active was nothing special.
"Just because they have a couple of Māori on the board of Skills Active doesn't make them a Māori educational provider of any standing. We have a whole heap of wānanga and other groups as well.
"I totally disagree with their stance. The Government has done a lot to involve and incorporate Māori perspectives in the changes."