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Key confident Maori Party won't walk away

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 15/09/2016

Negotiations with the Maori Fisheries Trust over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary broke down because it wanted an exemption that would allow it to fish in the protected area at any time in the future, parliament has been told.

The government and the Maori Party have agreed to look for a way through the impasse, and the bill that creases the sanctuary has been put on hold.

There's reported to be widespread iwi support for the stance taken by the trust, which has put the Maori Party in a difficult position.

It hasn't ruled out withdrawing from its support agreement with the government if a solution can't be found, but Prime Minister John Key thinks there's "zero chance" of that happening.

"We have a great relationship with them, we can understand the issues, and we'll work at it until we find a solution that's acceptable," he told reporters on Thursday.

"There's zero chance in my opinion of it escalating to a more serious issue."

In parliament, Environment Minister Nick Smith faced questions from Labour's Rino Tirikatene about why the negotiations had failed.

"In my discussions with TOKM (Te Ohu Kaimoana - the Maori Fisheries Trust) the only Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary legislation they were prepared to accept was one that the fishing ban specifically exempted them and enabled them, at their choice, to fish at any time in the future," Dr Smith said.

"In my view that would not be a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary that had integrity, and that is why we were not able to reach agreement."

The trust is going to take legal action against the government in an attempt to stop the sanctuary, and intends lodging a formal complaint with the Waitangi Tribunal.

It says the 1992 fisheries settlement gave Maori the right to fish in the 620,000 square kilometre sanctuary area 1000km north-east of New Zealand.

The government says Maori have never fished there in the past.

The bill that creates the sanctuary passed its first reading with unanimous support, but since then the issue of treaty rights has been raised.

The trust wants the Maori Party to withdraw its support for the government.

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