Politics

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: David Seymour’s Māori vaccination code attack misguided

OPINION:

From day one of every single Covid outbreak, including this Delta variant lockdown, Māori hauora (health) and Whānau Ora providers like Te Whānau O Waipareira have stepped up to do their bit and help protect the team of five million. Dressed in full PPE they have stood on the front line from dusk to beyond dawn, in storms and in rain, testing and vaccinating large queues in West Auckland.

Their manaaki, assisted by Māori wardens and personnel providing kai and fluids, to the communications teams and administrators, has been a fabulous show of solidarity. Each hauora provider sharing their activities on social media, while uplifting the spirits of communities anxiously awaiting the 1pm update. For many, this was the only human contact they were having outside of their bubble. For many, it was the only glimpse of hope whānau had that our lives would soon return to normal.

There were early signs of inequities in the Government Covid vaccination roll-out. Health specialists like Dr Rawiri McKee Jensen, co-chair of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā – the National Māori Pandemic Group, considered the Government’s one-shoe-fits-all vaccine rollout an “overwhelming failure”. The failure resulting in “Just 19 per cent of eligible Māori were vaccinated by the end of Tuesday, compared to 30.4 per cent of eligible people in the “European or other” category.

This is where David Seymour made a conscious decision to sabotage. He not only underestimated the manaaki our Māori hauora 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 he launched a full-scale attack at had a vaccination uptake of 85 per cent 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. He launched a political missile that fast became a political SOS.

I am 12 months out of leading a Covid response and standing up iwi checkpoints. I appreciate how much effort logistically and mentally goes into leading a response effort. 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.

Our pāti, with many other leaders, continually raised concern with how poor vaccination uptake was for Māori. 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. 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 per cent who no-showed to appointments, to the very elite who designed this vaccination system.

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. 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.

The Māori Battalion was a formidable fighting force, highly regarded for all they did on the allies’ front line to protect our nationhood. Their sacrifice for us is forever treasured.

Sir Apirana Ngata believed the creation of the Māori Battalion was an important way of attaining equality for Māori in the future. That the joint participation and sacrifice in protecting all citizens of Aotearoa would give us full respected rights alongside Pākehā, as Te Tiriti intended. While he acknowledged we would lose some of our most promising young leaders, such was the “price of citizenship”.

Even today, we see that continued commitment and sacrifice on the front line by Māori health providers to protect all citizens. I want to acknowledge and pay respect to those sentinels and protectors for all they have done for our nation since Covid hit our shores. And hope that the “price of citizenship” is remembered when targeted Māori approaches are needed to achieve equity and equality.

Seymour’s comment is unbelievably irresponsible and cruel. Political differences aside, it’s hard to understand why a leader with whakapapa continuously chooses not to protect it.

• Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader and whip of Te Pāti Māori.

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