1 Apr 2010

Govt admits bump in relationship with Maori Party

9:48 am on 1 April 2010

Environment Minister Nick Smith admits there has been a bump in the relationship between the Government and the Maori Party after it withdrew support for a controversial bill at the last minute.

Canterbury's regional councillors are being removed under legislation passed under urgency on Wednesday, despite the Maori Party's decision to vote against the bill at the 11th hour.

The National Government still had sufficient support from ACT and United Future to pass the Environment Canterbury Bill, replacing the 14 democratically elected councillors with a panel of commissioners.

The Government on Tuesday announced that the councillors would be sacked, after a series of complaints and a highly critical report of the regional council's management of water issues.

The Maori Party says it withdrew its support for the bill as it was concerned about the transfer of power to unelected officials. It believes it acted in good faith, informing Environment Minister Nick Smith of its intentions just before the final vote.

The party says it got the legislation at short notice, became more concerned as the debate progressed and changed its vote on the third reading. It was also worried about the impact on the rights and interests of local Maori.

Dr Smith says he was surprised and disappointed by the move and told Morning Report on Thursday there has been a bump in the relationship between the Government and its support partner.

However, he says he still trusts the Maori Party. "The relationship's still in good shape, albeit these sorts of relationships have bumps.

"When bills are going though Parliament, particularly of this sort, to be only told half an hour before the vote on the third reading that the party is changing its position does make things a bit challenging - it's the nature of MMP."

Maori Party whip Te Ururoa Flavell says the support agreement with the Government has not been breached.

Meanwhile, Dr Smith told Morning Report the Government could not give additional powers to the Canterbury Regional Council when it was already in trouble.

He also described suggestions that Agriculture Minister David Carter took part in Cabinet discussions on the matter with a conflict of interest as a slur. Dr Smith says the minster's farm is not in the area of a proposed irrigation scheme.