A deep-water marine sanctuary off the Kermadec Islands could still go ahead, with Labour confirming it would work to establish the world's largest marine reserve in a way that would satisfy both of its governing partners.
It appears an agreement has been reached between Labour, NZ First and the Greens individually that satisfies Green support for the protection of the Kermadec's pristine waters, while assuring NZ First that iwi and commercial fishing rights will be taken into account.
Incoming prime minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed the sanctuary played a role in coalition talks, but said, it was not dead in the water.
"Our intention is to work alongside Māori and use our best endeavours to achieve the Kermadec Sanctuary. We will be seeking consensus and agreement with our support parties to find a resolution," she said.
That could be a difficult ask to achieve in a first term, with views on the sanctuary in stark opposition. The consultation process is likely to be careful and protracted, and legislation for the reserve's creation could be some time away.
Ardern's comments followed suggestions the NZ First deal had scuppered the Greens' push for the sanctuary to be a condition of support in government.
Greens co-leader James Shaw said he was happy with the plan for progression and held "high hopes" it would be before Parliament in the next three years.
"I'm not saying it's going to be easy, right, because there are a lot of complicated issues to work through. But we're committed to working through those," Shaw said.
"We always said this at the time, that [National] created the problem by rushing it out and not consulting. They then had to work backwards towards a resolution. And we're committed to finding a resolution too, but it's got to be alongside Māori."
The 620,000-square-kilometre Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, announced by former prime minister John Key at the United Nations in 2015, was hailed around the world and passed its first reading in Parliament unopposed.
But fishing companies and iwi bodies filed legal action opposing it, saying the sanctuary would deny them fishing rights agreed in Treaty settlements.
It's been in limbo since, and the previous National government had to pull back on the deal following Māori Party threats to walk from government if the sanctuary went ahead.
It's understood NZ First, whose senior MPs are close to the fishing industry and whose campaign was partly bankrolled by players in the fishing industry, initially demanded work to establish the sanctuary cease.
Some of Labour's own Māori MPs were also opposed to the sanctuary on the basis that it would undermine iwi fishing rights. Much of the bad blood that erupted when the sanctuary was announced was due to lack of consultation with iwi.
The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill is being delayed, after talks with Māori fishing representatives broke down and the ACT Party pulled its support. Te Ohu Kaimoana, which represents iwi fishing interests, said the government had rejected compromises to the bill creating the huge marine sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands.
The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, pictured along with other large marine protected areas in the Pacific.A map showing the planned Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, along with other large marine protected areas in the Pacific. Photo: Ministry for the Environment
After days of negotiations, it had walked away from the table - and would continue legal action in the High Court and Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of iwi.
Prime Minister John Key said the government still had the numbers to pass the legislation, but would delay the bill's passage until a solution was found.
"We're absolutely sure we can get the numbers with the Greens but we're very disappointed that negotiations with [Te Ohu Kaimoana] have broken down at this point."
The government would restart discussions with the Māori Party to see whether it would support the bill, he said.