Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out the idea of a Māori parliament but sidestepped other questions about a report on Māori self-determination, instead accusing the Opposition leader of politicking.
National Party leader Judith Collins said on Saturday the Government was seeking to create "two systems by stealth", with separate systems for Māori, by enacting recommendations in the report He Puapua without public consultation.
The report was produced by a working group in 2019, tasked by the Government to recommend how New Zealand could realise its commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It draws together multiple documents and reports on Māori rangatiratanga, or self-determination, and includes a roadmap to 2040 by which time various co-governance and Māori-run arrangements could be in place including a separate court and health system to address the huge inequities currently facing Māori.
Monday's post-Cabinet press conference was the first opportunity to question Ardern since Collins' claims on the report.
Despite then Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta receiving the report in November 2019, it had not been discussed yet at Cabinet level, Ardern said.
She reiterated she would rule out some recommendations in the report, including establishing a separate Māori parliament, but declined to comment further on "individual elements that have not even been before Cabinet".
She said the way National had latched on to the report, labelling it "separatist" and "segregationist", was "really disappointing" and "nothing more than pure politics".
"The very issue the leader is trying to attract attention to is a Declaration she, her Cabinet, signed up to, and now is trying to politicise for nothing more than pure politics.
"I think New Zealand is at a point in politics where we have moved beyond this.
"We don't see these discussions when National is in Government, only when they are at a certain point in Opposition."
Ardern said the next step regarding the report was public engagement.
"Ultimately we have an obligation, after signing up to UNDRIP in 2010 and in 2014 agreeing to its implementation."
On National's concerns around the proposed Māori Health Authority and its ability to veto decisions around general health decisions, Ardern said it was more about making sure the Māori voice was heard on issues of concern.
"If we are to see a step-change in health, we need to make sure it works for every New Zealander."
Following Ardern's comments, Collins issued a statement again calling for the Government to be more upfront on its views about He Puapua.
"Jacinda Ardern can't skirt the issue of where she stands on these issues by claiming the report hasn't found its way to the Cabinet table," Collins said.
"The recommendations in He Puapua could dramatically reshape how democracy looks in this country under an approach of having one system for Māori and another system for everyone else across multiple layers of government.
"The Prime Minister should not be afraid of telling New Zealanders where she stands on the report. They deserve to know what her Government will do with it."
Collins said it was right to acknowledge and address the wrongs of the past, but not division along racial lines around core services and things like the foreshore and seabed.
"We are better off addressing the flaws within the current systems that aren't working for Māori. Ethnicity should not divide us. We are better together."
University of Auckland's Dr Claire Charters, who chaired the Declaration Working Group that produced the report, told the Herald Collins' framing was "ironic" given the report was intended to unify rather than divide.
"It is sad it has been used to create fear, there is no need, and the objective was the opposite, to provide hope for a more unified era for the country.
"It is about how under one state, we can have joint authority in some areas and not in others, others led by the Crown and others Māori. Māori continue to suffer under the current system, and until that is addressed there will be no hope for unity."
But she agrees with Collins on one point - the Government needs to come clean with its position and how it plans to proceed, having provided the report to them in November 2019.
"We asked for it to be released a long time ago. I wish it had been so we could have started with an intelligent discussion, and it is unfortunate it has started this way.
"But I am glad it is finally out. We understand the focus has been on Covid-19, but absolutely believe the Government needs to explain its position, and help salvage the situation and start an educated and mature discussion."