Opinion: John Key must concede defeat to the Māori Party

(Getty / file)
(Getty / file)

John Key says there is "zero chance" the Māori Party will walk - but that means he will have to concede defeat.

He will have to give them a deal worth staying for.

The battle of the Kermadec ocean sanctuary is the first major call-to-arms for the Māori Party. It will be their biggest test yet. Do they stay, or do they go?

The Government back-down has already begun. John Key says everyone needs to step back and take a breath. They have bought themselves and the Māori Party some time. Time to negotiate.

Te Ohu Kaimoana has put its stake in the ground. It wants Māori fishing rights to remain intact. If it was willing to budge on that point, neither party would be in this position. It has nothing to lose.

Make no mistake, the Māori Party is under pressure from Te Ohu Kaimoana, which represents more than 50 iwi. It is fighting for the fishing rights of all Māori.

So, John Key needs to be careful.   

If the Māori Party cannot stump up a suitable deal, it will be forced to walk. Staying for anything less would see it wiped out at the next election.

The prospects of walking are not so grim. The Māori Party has been plagued by criticism of its cosy relationship with National for years. Many believe it has actually cost the party votes.

Walking away would re-emphasise its political independence and integrity.

The Māori Party was born out of the fight for Māori rights. This issue is no different. The Government's continued ignorance on Treaty issues is tiring.

Walking away on this basis could resurge support for the Māori Party. A second wave, like the foreshore and seabed.

The consequences of a move by the Māori Party to excuse itself from the Government table will be playing on the mind of John Key.

National is weary of its core voters viewing them as pandering to the Māori Party, and therefore "pandering to Māori". The National Party's hardcore supporters will not shed a tear over the Māori Party walking out.

But the National Government does pride itself on one thing - stability. Much of the National Party's success has been built on the foundation of a stable Government. This is the Māori Party's trump card.

John Key wants to look as if he can govern without Winston Peters. The Māori Party allows him to do that.

The Māori Party is also on fairly solid ground. If it gets the Government to buckle, it can pull out the conch horn and blow its own trumpet. No longer plagued by jokes of sitting at the table to be fed crumbs, it will be dining on a full-course hangi with mutton bird and dough boys. (Although, hold the kereru.)

John Key will not be wanting to come back next year and lead into an election with an unstable Government.

There will be a deal. And it will include a footnote to all ministers: never to put the Government in such a ridiculously avoidable position ever again.

Translation: be very careful when dealing with that damn Treaty of Waitangi.