Brethren stirs coalition cauldron

Auckland, New Zealand - The Christian sect behind a half-million-dollar campaign to oust Labour is one of the groups urging National to make a last-ditch effort to form a government.

It was confirmed yesterday that members of the Exclusive Brethren had tried to arrange talks with NZ First, whose seven MPs are critical to a National-led government.

The Exclusive Brethren's continued interest in the outcome of negotiations to form the next government is understood to be a factor in Labour's moving quickly this week to quell growing speculation that a centre-Right deal was on the cards.

That speculation gained momentum early this week when it was revealed the Maori Party had been in talks with National, NZ First, United Future and ACT.

NZ First leader Winston Peters confirmed yesterday that the Brethren had approached his party.

"They've tried to approach me and the president and we've just said, `Look, we're not going to talk to people who went out and backed another political party'."

He did not know what the church wanted, he said.

Exclusive Brethren member Greg Mason said members of his church would be "talking to probably all sorts of people" and he would not comment further.

National leader Don Brash said yesterday that it was no secret the Brethren wanted to see a centre-Right government.

"They have urged us to keep talking. They have not offered any financial support and nor will any be sought."

United Future leader Peter Dunne said the church had not approached him.

National's outside chance of forming a government is fading as Labour and NZ First move closer to a deal.

But there were further meetings yesterday between Dr Brash and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia – talks Mrs Turia later described as "relationship- building".

Earlier, ACT and National joined members of the Maori Party on Parliament's forecourt in support of a protest by Te Wananga o Aotearoa, previously a target of both right-wing parties.

The Maori Party will hold a special caucus meeting today to reassess its options after again being shunned by caretaker Prime Minister Helen Clark in her negotiations.

Mrs Turia's decision to court National is likely to have hardened Labour's view that a relationship with the Maori Party would be unworkable – and further exposes the bad blood between Mrs Turia and Miss Clark over the foreshore and seabed issue.