Judith Collins pledges to put National candidates in 'as many of the Māori seats as possible'

National has not run candidates in Māori seats since 2002, but that's going to change as leader Judith Collins pledges to have contenders in "as many of the Māori seats as possible" at the next election. 

"National has been absent from the Māori electorate contest for too long," Collins said on Monday at National's caucus retreat, which was shifted from Whangārei to Wellington as a precautionary measure due to the Northland community case of COVID-19. 

"We are a party for all New Zealanders," Collins said. "Everything we do, we do with the aim of making New Zealand a better, more prosperous country for everyone."

Collins made the announcement alongside National Party President Peter Goodfellow who, along with other board members, is said to be "very supportive" of the move. 

"At the core of this is giving every New Zealander a voice in Parliament - making sure their interests and aspirations are at the heart of every political decision we make," Collins said. 

"With this in mind, the National Party believes we should be doing everything possible to represent every New Zealander, and will work towards having candidates in as many of the Māori seats as possible going forward."

Collins said National has always been ambitious for Māori.

"We want Māori to do well because when Māori do well, the whole country does well. I believe the National Party will be a strong voice for Māori in Government."

There are seven Māori electorates and six of them are currently held by Labour. The only Māori electorate not held by Labour is Waiariki, which Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi won from Labour's Tamati Coffey. 

National lost several Māori MPs after winning just 25.6 percent of the party vote in October and losing 14 electorates to Labour and one to the Greens. Its most senior Māori MP is Dr Shane Reti, National's deputy leader. 

The Māori electorates were introduced in 1867 under the Māori Representation Act, during a time of conflict between Māori and Pākehā. The seats - four at the time - were intended to give Māori a more direct say in Parliament. 

The electorates were intended as a temporary measure lasting five years but were extended in 1872 and made permanent in 1876. Since 1967, any candidate of any ethnicity has been able to stand in a Māori electorate.

Voters who wish to vote in a Māori electorate have to register as a voter on the Māori roll and need to declare they are of Māori descent.

National hasn't run candidates in the Māori seats since before Don Brash was leader. In 2004, he said this was because the party wanted to eventually abolish the Māori seats. 

"We will be asking Maori for their party vote so that we can unchain Maori from the grievance industry and give them the same opportunities that other New Zealanders would enjoy under National - a more prosperous, secure country, with higher living standards for us all," Brash said at the time.

In 2008, National again campaigned on eventually abolishing the Māori seats under the leadership of John Key. But the policy was dropped after National went into Government with the Māori Party, and Key later said he would abolish the seats only with the agreement of Māori.

Key said in 2014 that dropping the Māori seats would mean "hikois from hell" adding that the move would be "incredibly divisive". 

In 2002 under Bill English's leadership, National ran in the Māori seats, but none of the candidates made it into Parliament. It was a tough election for National winning just 20.93 percent of the party vote, and Labour picked up all the Māori seats.  

Collins' announcement comes days before politicians head up north for Waitangi celebrations in the Bay of Islands. It will be Collins' first appearance at Waitangi as National Party leader. 

Collins' predecessor Simon Bridges was criticised at Waitangi last year for not showing up at the dawn service, and he was also told by a Ngāpuhi representative that National is "wrong".