Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that public consultation on co-governance with Māori will begin later in 2022.
"Phase one of consultation is going out to all New Zealanders and that'll be happening over the course of this year," Ardern said on Tuesday.
Her comments followed ACT leader David Seymour's announcement last week that a referendum on Māori co-governance, which he likened to an "unequal society", was a bottom line for any coalition negotiations in 2023.
Seymour proposed a law setting in stone that "all citizens of New Zealand have the same political rights and duties" and "all political authority comes from the people by democratic means including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot".
The proposed law would also define New Zealand as a "multiethnic liberal democracy where discrimination based on ethnicity is illegal".
Seymour told The Hui on Monday he had not consulted with Māori on his new version of the Treaty of Waitangi's interpretation, which Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said highlighted how "disingenuous" he was and how "his real intent is to race bait and incite anti-Māori support".
The debate stems from the controversial He Puapua report, a think piece document commissioned by the Government in 2019 that sets out a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040.
The report 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 (UNDRIP).
In July last year, Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson announced plans to consult with Māori on He Puapua before engaging with the wider public. The engagement with iwi and Māori organisations is now complete.
Jackson, in a statement to Newshub, said Cabinet was yet to meet to discuss the next steps on the development of the draft Declaration plan for UNDRIP.
"I will have more to say once that has occurred," Jackson said. "I will then report back to Cabinet mid-year with the draft Declaration Plan for approval before embarking on a wider (full) public consultation process on the draft Declaration Plan."
Ardern said the Government had a "duty" to follow through on what the previous National Government signed New Zealand up to.
The current National leader Christopher Luxon, who based on current polling would need ACT's support to form a centre-right administration and become Prime Minister, said on Tuesday he had concerns about co-governance.
"I have concerns about co-governance as it moves from management of local natural resources into the delivery of public services but what I'd say to you is the bigger issue is the Government needs to make the case as to what they're doing in this space and where we're going," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Luxon initially avoided ruling out a referendum on co-governance but eventually got there.
"I don't see a need for a referendum at this point, if you're asking me that question."
Seymour said on Tuesday that by dismissing a referendum, Luxon would be "ignoring the problem and hoping it'll go away".
"That's been the strategy of successive National governments in the past. ACT is challenging Christopher Luxon's Government to be different and deliver real change."
But Seymour did welcome Luxon's commitment to scrap the new Māori Health Authority, a key component of the Government's health system reforms - all 20 District Health Boards (DHBs) replaced with a new centralised entity, Health NZ.
A Māori Health Authority was recommended in He Puapua. The document also suggested a separate Māori Parliament, which the Government has ruled out.
"It's promising to see National agree with ACT that the Māori Health Authority should be scrapped. The creation of a separate Māori Health Authority is a divisive move," Seymour said.
"The Government must stop separating New Zealanders based on their race and focus on the common dignity of us all."
Ardern said it was the previous National Government that initiated co-governance.
"There's a range of examples, most of which sit under the period of the last National Government. We've seen examples of co-governance in the conservation space, around environmental and water management, where they've worked really well," Ardern said.
"So, to see now a party who is often part of those governments now contesting those arrangements, does seem highly political to us."
Ardern said her Government was clear about where it would implement co-governance.
"The Māori Health Authority - we're very clear on why that authority is being established. Health outcomes for Māori are worse in this country. Māori die younger in this country. I think we all acknowledge that the way we've been operating in our health system hasn't been serving Māori well," Ardern said.
"We need to do something different about that and unfortunately, the National Party has no solutions on how they would improve those outcomes. This is ours."
The 2020 Health and Disability System Review found that Māori health outcomes were "significantly worse" than those of other Kiwis, representing a "failure of the health and disability system" that did not reflect Treaty of Waitangi commitments.
Then there's Three Waters, the Government's plan to amalgamate local water assets into four public entities, which will be represented by regional representative groups consisting of 50 percent local council members and 50 percent iwi.
"We're very clear that at the moment, our water governance and management is causing New Zealanders to get sick, it's causing a future water bill for ratepayers that they cannot afford. We're proposing reform to try and fix those problems," Ardern said.
"We're very clear on where it's being used. I think, unfortunately, some political parties are trying to turn it into something it's not."
Ardern, in Parliament, challenged Seymour to explain what was so wrong with co-governance arrangements.
"Of course I support the longstanding principles of democracy in this nation but the idea that that cannot sit alongside Te Titiri o Waitangi, I take issue with that. We are more sophisticated than that, surely, than to take such a simplistic view," Ardern said.
"Let's discuss the issue rather than what I worry about is blatant politicisation."