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Sharples Repeats Maori Seats Claim

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A key Maori Party staffer has backed co-leader Pita Sharples' claim that National leader John Key gave an assurance he would not abolish the Maori seats without Maori consent.

But National deputy Bill English told NZPA he backed Mr Key's version of events.

National has promised to dump the seats around 2014 when the party hopes to have all Treaty of Waitangi historic grievances settled.

But Dr Sharples told Sky TV this month that Mr Key had said during a relationship-building meeting between the two parties that the seats would not be scrapped without Maori agreement.

"I've pinned him down. I said, `you admit to me that you won't get rid of those seats until Maori people say yes' and he said that's what he would do."

Mr Key denied he had said that and did so again in TVNZ's leaders debate on Tuesday night, repeatedly saying there was "no formal agreement" over the issue.

But in a minor parties forum on Auckland's Alt TV last night Dr Sharples stood by his claim.

And his chief of staff Harry Walker told The New Zealand Herald that Mr Key was clear in the meeting that National's position could be put on the backburner.

Mr Walker and Mr English were also present at the meeting where the issue was discussed.

But Mr English said while the matter was discussed, his recollection matched Mr Key's -- there was no agreement.

"John's position has been consistent that he will not negotiate with anyone before the election," he told NZPA.

The Maori Party has a policy of entrenching the seats and if the party holds the balance of power after the election National will have to cut a deal if it wants to form the next government.

Dr Sharples said on Alt TV that straight after Mr Key had agreed with him over the seats issue Mr English changed the subject.

"The way it all started was that I was explaining what would be our bottom line, that the seats cannot go unless Maori say so, and I kept saying that, and in the end he sort of agreed and agreed and agreed, so maybe in his own head he thought he hadn't agreed, but he had."

Deputy labour leader Michael Cullen called on Mr Key to clear up the confusion.

He said Mr Key was "slippery" and could not be trusted.

Labour leader Helen Clark also chimed in, saying she believed Dr Sharples version of events.

She knew him to be an honest man and believed Mr Key had again said one thing in public while saying something completely different in private.

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