National leader Todd Muller is defending the lack of Māori MPs on the party's frontbench, saying the party makes decisions based "on merit" rather than ethnicity.
Following the reveal of Muller's MP rankings on Monday, many identified the lack of Māori representation in the top spots of the party.
Ahead of the National Party caucus on Tuesday, Muller and deputy Nikki Kaye were asked which members of their shadow Cabinet were Māori. After listing Paula Bennett and Dr Shane Reti, numbers 13 and 17 in the party's rankings respectively, Kaye said fifth-ranked Paul Goldsmith was "obviously Ngāti Porou". Minutes later, Goldsmith said he had connections to the iwi, but he wasn't Māori.
The blunder became a focus for Government MPs in the House later in the day, with Shane Jones making wisecracks about Goldsmith's supposed Māori heritage.
Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Muller defended his selections, saying there is talent across the whole party. He said Bennett and Dr Reti stack up well against the likes of Willie Jackson and other Government ministers. Muller also noted he had given the large Workplace Relations and Safety portfolio to 46th-ranked Dan Bidois.
Muller said Māoridom was "absolutely critical" to the success of Aotearoa and that National had a good track record in the area.
"National has a fantastic record over years as being the party that actually delivers outcomes for Māori in terms of beginning the Treaty settlement process and concluding them, Whanau Ora, partnership schools," he said.
"The National Party is a party that actually delivers for Māori and it delivers for the whole country, and that, of course, is going to be what is going to be the focus of the debate at the election over the next few months."
Muller was asked by The AM Show host Ryan Bridge whether he picked his team on merit or race.
"The National Party always picks on merit. When you look at that shadow Cabinet, it is extraordinarily strong, particularly when you compare against this Cabinet where you have three or four heavy-lifters and about 15 empty seats," he said.
He was also questioned on whether he believed there was anything wrong with being white.
"Of course there is not. You just need to be who you are in this country and what is phenomenal about this country is that we accept people for who they are, for the essence of themselves and their values and what they bring to the country. Both people who have lived here for a long time, Māori, and those who are migrants who have turned up more recently."
Muller claimed those opposing his party were picking an "arbitrary line" of where Māori MPs needed to be ranked in his party, something he rejected.
However, his Māori Development spokesperson, Jo Hayes, isn't impressed, telling Radio Waatea on Tuesday she would be speaking to the leader about the lack of Māori voices.
"This is not good. We need to remedy this or you need to front it and take it head-on and say why. You need to give a better explanation."
Muller noted the Treaty of Waitangi was a founding document of New Zealand and when quizzed on if National believed in separate funding for Māori, said: "We have always had the view that what counts is outcome. That is why we created the concept of Whanau Ora."
"We believe in funding for where the need is and this idea that you need to classify the lens through first ethnicity before you look at the need is, I think, ridiculous."
Muller told The AM Show Whanau Ora - a health initiative driven by Māori cultural values - was "predominantly focussed on where the need was" and was a "superb model of Māori working with Māori to achieve a better outcome".
"Our total focus is to ensure that if you spend taxpayer money, you actually get an outcome that improves families' lives."