Though the Government has unveiled its summer-holiday liberation for Aucklanders, it may have sparked a war with Maori.
Tai Tokerau Border Patrol leader Hone Harawira yesterday said the decision to open Auckland’s borders could have “devastating consequences” for the people of Tai Tokerau.”
Harawira is worried that the end of the hard border with Auckland will see Covid circulate more freely among vulnerable Maori communities in the north.
And the Maori Party launched its own Covid plan, which called for the handover of Maori vaccinations and self-isolation care to a Maori statutory authority.
At a press conference announcing their plan, the party’s two leaders slammed the Government response to Maori and Covid as being racist, arrogant and out of touch.
“We needed a by Maori for Maori approach, and that didn’t happen,” said Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi yesterday.
Waititi called on the Government to urgently establish the Maori Health Authority and to also create a Maori Pandemic Response Group.
He said that though the party opposed imposed mandates, it would agree to them for hospital and medical clinic workers and for other health workers, the party would propose regular testing.
Waititi said the border should not open until 95 per cent of the country had been vaccinated, which was initially a proposal from the iwi Leaders’ Forum.
Maori TV analyst Dr Rawiri Paonui said 52 per cent of yesterday’s new cases were Maori; 41.5 per cent of all of the Delta outbreak cases have been Maori.
The Government would seem to be feeling the political heat over Maori and Covid and had its Crown Maori relations Minister, Kelvin Davis, led off the Wednesday General debate, not on the big announcements about the Auckland border, but instead on the Maori Party Covid plan.
“They want to shut down New Zealand until Māori vaccination rates hit 95 per cent,” he said.
“I say, fair enough—if that’s their goal, 95 per cent, good on them, but then again, like I say, they’ve done all they can to undermine the initiatives that have been put in place to increase Māori vaccination uptake, such as the vaccine mandate.
“The vaccine mandate applies to about 40 per cent of our workforce. If the Māori Party didn’t realise, actually Māori are part of our workforce, and they also engage with Māori as they engage with the workers.”
What is driving the Maori Party’s concerns is not only the high number of Maori Covid cases but also the low Maori vaccination rate.
Only 77.6 per cent of Maori have received one dose compared with 88.5 per cent of Pasifika and 90.3 per cent of Pakeha.
The way the vaccine was rolled out has distorted the Maori figures.
Vaccinations for Maori aged 20 -34 are well below the overall figures for all ethnicities, but they were not eligible to be vaccinated until September under the vaccine rollout plan.
“70 per cent of our population is 40 years and younger, so we got left behind,” said Waititi.
“This is why we needed an equitable Tiriti led solution to run this vaccination rollout.
“And so we’ve missed that bus.
“The arrogance of this government and its health officials has meant that Maori are now at the back of the queue.”
But there is a danger that Maori might be thought to be dragging the chain and holding up the re-opening of the whole country.
“The divide has already been created,” he said.
“We didn’t create it.
“It has been created by a government-led approach and not a treaty led approach.
“Our policy is not created to divide; it’s actually to try and clean up the mess.”
Waititi quoted figures from the day before of vaccination numbers in Tairawhiti.
“Our people are getting there,” he said.
“They didn’t need mandates; they didn’t need government interventions or government protocols.
“What they needed was a treaty led approach, and they needed Maori health providers.”
The party’s other co-leader, Deborah Ngarewa-Packer, that the Government’s response to the low Maori vaccination rate in the Taranaki had been to throw a whole lot of money at solutions.
“Money’s not really what we just need now,” she said.
“What we need is for the Government to understand the models that are working and replicate those and continue to resource those.
“Those are the things been missed.”
Waititi later confronted the Prime Minister in Question Time over the refusal of the Ministry of Health to provide the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency with data to enable Maori health providers to identify Maori who have not been vaccinated.
He asked if the Director-General of Health had misled the country by saying data had been shared with the Agency when it had not.
“Look, no. I don’t believe it’s fair to characterise Dr Bloomfield in that way,” the Prime Minister replied.
“And again, as I come back to the principle, we all want to accelerate vaccination rates; that is a goal we all have.
“And yes, access to data is a critical piece to ensure that we’re reaching individuals.
“But there are some who have taken different views. We’re all trying to work through and resolve them as quickly as possible.”
But the Maori Party insisted there was a huge gap between those making decisions and what was really happening on the ground.
“Those making the decision, the one-stop-shop approach, have no connection with those living on the ground,” said Ngarewa-Packer.
“They are too distant, they are too away, and they have never, ever been able to engage with most of the communities that they are trying to tell what to do.
“There’s a huge disconnect, and unfortunately, the disconnect is with our whanau.
“What they haven’t done is take on the strength of unity that Maori are doing out there and have done since last year, and made it a strategy.
“They are completely insecure and don’t want to share the power with our whanau who are saving our whanau every day.”
Maori might be making some small gains, though.
Despite Hone Harawira’s fears that Covid will swamp vulnerable communities in the north, POLITIK understands that Police will work with the Tai Tokerau Border patrol to close off small communities if they are threatened by an influx of visitors.
There are, however, other issues that may confront holidaymakers heading north.
The main checkpoint will be at Te Hana, just north of Wellsford, where passengers will be asked for either vaccination certificates or evidence of a negative Covid test.
The question will be whether the system will be able to cope with the number of tests that might be required.
“Obviously, this is only applying to those who are choosing to move out of Auckland over that period, said Ardern.
“Our hope of courses said anyone who wants to move around that border or around the region will seek to be vaccinated because it will be a lot more straightforward than getting a test every time they depart.”
She said that currently, 80,000 people were able to be tested over a three week period.
But the reality is that the border will have holes in it; if those holes let more Covid into Maori communities in the north, then that could reverberate into Waitangi in February.
The irony is that the Government, by solving one potential political issue, Aucklanders unable to go on holiday it may have created another; widespread opposition among Maori.