Asia Pacific Report newsdesk
A Māori political leader has branded opposition neoliberal ACT leader David Seymour’s act this week undermining an indigenous response to New Zealand’s covid-19 pandemic as “unbelievably irresponsible and cruel”.
Seymour publicly shared a priority vaccine code for Māori so that Pākehā, or non-Māori, could jump the queue for vaccinations against the virus.
“Political differences aside, it’s hard to understand why a leader with whakapapa continuously chooses not to protect it,” said Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader and whip of Te Pāti Māori.
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She cited health specialists arguing that the government’s one-shoe-fits-all vaccine rollout was an “overwhelming failure”.
The failure resulted in “just 19 percent of eligible Māori [being] vaccinated by the end of Tuesday, compared to 30.4 percent of eligible people in the ‘European or other’ category,” Ngarewa-Packer wrote.
Fifteen percent of New Zealand’s population 5 million are Māori, the country’s First Nation people.
‘Conscious decision to sabotage’
“This is where David Seymour made a conscious decision to sabotage. He not only underestimated the manaaki our Māori hauora [health] providers have for everyone in their communities, but also the solutions to address vaccination disparity and the success that came with it.”
The very centre that Seymour had launched a full-scale attack on had a vaccination uptake of 85 percent Pākehā, vaccinating five times fewer Māori than non-Māori.
“His poor understanding that a Māori-targeted-approach is not anti-Pākehā, exclusive or segregated shows his absolute desperation to compete for the ‘disillusioned white’ voter,” Ngarewa-Packer said.
“He launched a political missile that fast became a political SOS.”
Ngarewa-Packer said she was just 12 months out of personally leading a covid response and standing up iwi checkpoints.
“I appreciate how much effort logistically and mentally goes into leading a response effort,” she said.
“It takes a team who is prepared to work outside of normal hours to serve their community and one who believes with a passion that they must, and indeed can.
Poor vaccination uptake
“Our pāti [political party] with many other leaders, continually raised concern with how poor vaccination uptake was for Māori [and Pasifika].
“With a third of our population living in poverty and a third under-employed, the luxury of fuelling a car to travel five hours for vaccination versus putting food on the table was not an option.
“I live in a community where many don’t own smartphones or have data access to book vaccinations, some can’t afford to travel over an hour to their closest urban medical facilities.
“Access issues for many whānau are real, as are inequities. But the reality is Seymour’s neighbourhood is vastly different to those he attacked.’
Seymour is MP for Epsom in Auckland, one of New Zealand’s wealthiest electorates, and has been leader of the rightwing party ACT since 2014.
“He is privileged, and rather than empathise to understand some very real-life challenges, he instead chose to appeal to the fascist New Zealander, to the wealthy who have health insurance, to the 35 percent who no-showed to appointments, to the very elite who designed this vaccination system.”
Ngarewa-Packer said the access code had nothing to do with skin colour but rather the systemic issues that Māori “consistently confront as a population – with higher rates of deprivation and mortality”.
Always considered expendable
“And sadly, it doesn’t matter how hard we work to protect the team of five million or put others before our own. The sad reality is, when it comes to addressing our own needs, it is presented as preferential. We are always considered expendable.”
Ngarewa-Packer also referred to the sacrifices that the famous Maori Battalion had made for the protection of the people of Aotearoa during both World Wars.
“The Māori Battalion was a formidable fighting force, highly regarded for all they did on the allies’ frontline to protect our nationhood. Their sacrifice for us is forever treasured.”
That sacrifice had been hoped that it would “give us full respected rights alongside Pākehā, as [the 1840 foundation] Te Tiriti [of Waitangi] intended”.
All covid-19 vaccinations are free in New Zealand.
15 new community cases
RNZ News reports that Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield reported 15 new community cases of covid-19 in the country in New Zealand today.
Speaking at today’s media conference, Dr Bloomfield said there were now 855 cases in the current community outbreak and 218 cases were deemed to have recovered.
There were 21 new cases reported yesterday, and 20 on three days in a row before that.