David Seymour lukewarm on ACT working with Te Pāti Māori, won't rule out New Zealand First

ACT leader David Seymour is lukewarm on the prospect of working with Te Pāti Māori in a hypothetical centre-right administration but is leaving the door slightly ajar to NZ First. 

It comes after the latest TVNZ Kantar poll found that, on current polling, neither a Labour-Greens nor National-ACT bloc would have the numbers to form a Government and would need Te Pāti Māori's two seats. 

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told AM on Friday her party wasn't focused on "left or right" politics, but instead fighting for a "Te Tiriti-centric" Government. 

"We will only work with those who are focused on Treaty-centric Aotearoa, a future-focused Aotearoa due to equality and equity," she said.

"We've always said that. It'll be our people that will determine that the day after the elections and we will always be true to that."

National MP Simon Bridges told AM that while it was ultimately up to his leader Christopher Luxon, National could work with a range of parties, including Te Pāti Māori, but he said the question was: "Would they?"

The Māori Party has worked with National before. It supported former Prime Minister Sir John Key's administration for three Parliamentary terms, with Māori Party co-leaders serving as ministers outside Cabinet.

But the Māori Party has new co-leaders now who are more aligned with Labour. 

National would need ACT's eight seats to form a centre-right administration, though it looks unlikely ACT would work with Te Pāti Māori.

"I'd work with anyone to change this Government, but let's be clear about what the Māori Party means: it means working with people who believe that there should be two different types of political rights in New Zealand depending on your ancestry," Seymour told Newshub. 

When asked if he would consider changing his position if he heard Te Pāti Māori out, Seymour said: "No."

"We've heard what they've got to say. The simple facts are there's not one example of a country that's succeeded by having different political rights based on birth but there are many examples of terrible failure as a result of that kind of discrimination."

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Seymour is against policies like co-governance of water assets and a Māori Health Authority, the latter of which was recommended in the controversial He Puapua document, a non-policy report commissioned by the Government in 2019 that sets out a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040. 

It was commissioned as a response to the former National-led Government signing New Zealand up in 2010 to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 

"Unfortunately it's often the Māori Party that engages in racist rhetoric where they think people should have different rights based on birth. That's incompatible with a modern, multi-ethnic society," Seymour told Newshub. 

"Some people think it's racist to want everybody to have the same political rights and somehow it's not racist to want different political rights based on ancestry. People can judge that for themselves."

Seymour said he believed it unlikely that Te Pāti Māori would hold the balance of power at the 2023 election. 

"We're not going to make any concessions that lead New Zealand to be a more racially divided place," he told Newshub. 

"I think it's very unlikely the Māori Party will hold the balance of power. I think it's more likely the centre-right will continue to grow and the Māori Party won't be needed to form a government. 

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"But in the hypothetical situation they were, I think it's even more important for ACT to be there holding the others accountable because, as we saw with John Key signing up to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which has led to He Puapua, National left to their own devices will make huge concessions that will take New Zealand down a divisive path."

While NZ First did not make it back to Parliament at the 2020 election - having failed to win neither a seat nor 5 percent of the party vote - leader Winston Peters has traditionally been known as the 'kingmaker' for holding the balance of power.

After the 2017 election all eyes were on Peters to see which party he would form a Government with. National won 56 seats but it didn't reach the 61 it needed even with ACT's support. It needed NZ First's nine seats, but Peters chose to form a coalition with Labour. 

Labour only had 46 seats and with NZ First's nine seats that only made 55, so Labour signed a confidence and supply deal with the Greens who had eight seats, which resulted in the Labour-NZ First Coalition Government led by Jacinda Ardern. 

Labour now governs alone after winning a majority at the 2020 election. 

Seymour, who has a history of clashing with Peters, said it was possible ACT could work with NZ First if it gained a seat or won enough of the party vote. It's currently polling at around 2 percent. 

"We worked with them to get the End of Life Choice Bill done, so yes," Seymour said, when asked if he could ever work with NZ First. 

"But I think people have to ask themselves: what do they bring to the table?"

The latest poll shows Labour on 37 percent compared to National on 39 percent. The Greens are on 9 percent and ACT is on 8 percent.