Maori vote courted with sitting of Bills

The importance of the Maori vote in deciding the next government was amply demonstrated in Parliament yesterday as five individual Treaty Settlement Bills were debated under urgency.

Three settlements were enacted, included the largest-ever treaty settlement to be passed by Parliament.

In the Treelords Deal, the Crown will transfer forest land worth $196 million to a collective of seven central North Island iwi through the Central North Island Forests Land Collective Settlement.

The agreement will also see the iwi receive rentals of an estimated $223 million.

Another $48 million was handed over through the Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapu Claims and the Te Roroa Claims Settlements as the Government opened the coffers to get the settlements finalised before the election.

Two other Bills received their first reading and National promised that it would continue the settlement process apace if it became the government after the November 8 election.

In Parliament, all parties except Act New Zealand, which seemed to be absent from the debate, fell over themselves to agree how deserved the settlements were.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen received much praise from his friends and opponents, including National Party deputy leader Bill English, for his handling of the negotiations and the speed with which they were completed.

Apart from National MP Tau Henare calling the debate under urgency "blatant electioneering", the day in the House went smoothly enough.

Below the surface, however, there is a competition under way to woo not only Maori voters but also Maori Party MPs.

It has become almost a given in Wellington that the Maori Party will increase its representation in Parliament after the election to possibly six MPs.

Te Tai Tonga looks set to stay with Labour and there is some uncertainty about whether the personal history of Maori Party candidate Derek Fox will count as he tries to upset Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia.

New Zealand First MPs have been openly derisive towards Maori Party MPs.

National and Act are accusing the Government of underhand tactics after the Maori Party said it was pressured to vote against censuring NZ First leader Winston Peters.

The latest row broke out when Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said a senior government minister and a NZ First staff member had called him, urging the party to support Mr Peters.

Mr Horomia owned up but said all he did was explain Labour's position.

National Party leader John Key said Prime Minister Helen Clark should explain why Mr Horomia told the Maori Party there would be "unpleasant repercussions" from the Maori people if the party voted against Mr Peters in the privileges committee case.

"In the past three years, the Maori Party has proved to be passionate advocates for Maori. Their supporters will be concerned by this course of events," he said.

Maori roll voters have not usually voted for National but they did break with tradition when NZ First won more Maori seats from Labour in 1996 after Mr Henare's success in 1993 when he was then a NZ First MP.

When NZ First split apart, Labour regained the Maori seats until the Maori Party turned up in 2005 and won four of them.

But although the party won electorate seats, its party vote was negligible, at 2.5%.

The Maori voters ticked Labour in their party vote.

Labour needs the support of Maori voters on the party vote but could also do with the help of the Maori Party MPs after the election if Miss Clark wants to form the next government.

Political editor Dene Mackenzie is in Wellington this week.



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