Māori seats only benefit 'elite Māori' - Don Brash

Former National Party leader Don Brash says Māori seats are no longer useful and only serve to benefit the elite, rather than "ordinary Māori".

The remarks came a day after Dr Brash claimed the Māori Party was "divisive", and labelled its failure to get into Parliament "a positive thing for New Zealand".

The new comment came as he and Labour MP Willie Jackson engaged in a heated debate on the importance of Māori electorates on The AM Show on Tuesday morning.

"They've long outlived their usefulness - the Royal Commission on the system said in 1986 that [Māori seats] should go if we adopted MMP," he said.

Dr Brash said the fact many of the parties had Māori high up in their party lists gives the new Government even more of an imperative to cut them, as Māori already have good representation.

But Labour MP Willie Jackson said while it's true there are plenty of Māori in Parliament, the Maori seats need to stay because they're "a good insurance" and ensure that advocacy for Maori is a priority.

"First and foremost, if you're in a Māori seat, you're obliged to advocate for your people," he said.

"That's the problem with some of the people on the list; all good people, but sometimes they've got to worry about the local school, which is [also] important stuff - but Māori priorities go onto the back foot."

He gave National deputy leader Paula Bennett as an example, asking what she has done for Māori since taking up that position.

Mr Jackson then took a pop at Dr Brash, calling out his treatment of Māori MPs on National's party list while he was leader - claiming the now retired politician got rid of them "as soon as they started talking about Māori things".

"There were very prominent Māori leaders in National… these people were stood down all because Don Brash said 'We are one, we are the world'," he said.

"They couldn't get a Maori voice up - they were shut down. That's the reality."

Dr Brash bristled at those remarks, returning fire by claiming Māori seats only really benefit the elite, and neglect the idea that many of the issues Māori face are the same as that of Pakeha.

He also suggested that the establishment of Māori electorates had failed to address the social problems that plague Māori - though Mr Jackson said the fact those issues remain comes down to the fact no Māori has ever been Prime Minister.

Mr Jackson said he would absolutely not support a referendum on Māori seats, and added he was proud of Labour leader Jacinda Ardern for the strong stance she's taken on the issue.

Dr Brash said the fact he and Mr Jackson disagreed on Māori electorates was fine, and merely demonstrated the need for a public vote.