Marama Fox, David Seymour clash over te reo Māori in schools

The leader of the Greens is throwing his weight behind the idea of universal Te Reo in schools, earning praise from potential new coalition partners the Māori Party.

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox says we need a better understanding across our cultures, and compulsory Te Reo would ensure that. On last night's minor party leaders' debate, James Shaw agreed, saying action is needed now.

"It's a huge resourcing challenge, it's 10 to 20 years to build up the cohort of teachers available, but if we dither around and wait until the circumstances are ready for us, we will never get started."

The policy's got the tick of approval from the Māori Party, which wants Māori to take precedence in schools over other languages.

"I don't mind if you want to bring in other languages at some later date," co-leader Marama Fox said during the debate, "but their argument that you need to have choice so that people can use this all over the world, that's what happened when we all took Japanese because Japan was going to be our biggest trading partner. How many of those young people carried on taking Japanese to year 13? Bugger all."

ACT's David Seymour said if people want their kids to learn Māori, they can go to a one of the many schools which offers it - but it shouldn't be compulsory for all schools to offer it.

"Some of the partnership schools set up speak Maori only, and I think that's okay. But I'm not supportive of using some people's children to achieve a political project for people in Wellington."

His comments sparked a heated debate between him and Ms Fox, despite both parties having been in Government together for nine years.

"It's about growing a nation that's united a culture and adds value to this place," said Ms Fox. "The new generation coming up, they don't mind it at all."

"You grow your nation," replied Mr Seymour, "but you don't have a right to commandeer other people's children to grow your vision of what a country should be like."