COVID-19: New Maori Party candidate accuses Government of 'ethnic cleansing'

A new Māori Party candidate is accusing the Government of "ethnic cleansing" over its  COVID-19 response.

Donna Pokere-Phillips, who's standing in the Hauraki-Waikato electorate seat in the upcoming 2020 election, says New Zealand is witnessing "the greatest peacetime loss of civil liberties in our history at the exclusion of a Māori voice".

She warns the recently-passed COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill gives officials warrantless entry on to premises including marae, as well as the power to detain people, prescribe treatment, and take possession of land and buildings.

"Warrantless entry on to our marae, and the coercive powers officials have to arrest and detain, being able to take possession of the bastion we as Māori hold sacred, our marae, is very disturbing," she says in a statement.

Pokere-Phillips is also concerned at the lack of engagement with Māori during the public health crisis. She says the lower rates of testing for COVID-19 in Māori populations puts them at higher risk of an outbreak.

Modelling released in April by research group Te Pūnaha Matatini shows that because of underlying health conditions, socioeconomic disadvantage and structural racism, the death rate for COVID-19 could be 2.5 times higher for Māori.

"The lack of Māori response by the Government to COVID-19, the lack of Māori engagement with Māori leadership during the lockdown, the removal by force of our rights protected under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and legislation rushed through under urgency further eroding civil liberties, in short is ethnic cleansing," Pokere-Phillips says.

According to the latest data, Māori represent 8 percent of the total cases so far - or 126 people.

Māori health and wellbeing has been highlighted as a priority for the Government in response to COVID-19, with close to $1 billion invested in support across multiple sectors in the 2020 Budget.

This includes an extra $136 million for Whānau Ora to deliver support to the families and communities who need it most.

Iwi organisations and non-Governmental organisations get an extra $11 million to help vulnerable communities.

Labour's Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis says the massive cash boost has huge potential.

"COVID-19 has taught us that when the Government and Māori work together, putting our people at the centre of everything we do, we can achieve great things together," he said. 

"Today's $900 million investment shows our commitment to working together, our commitment to helping out Whānau and our commitment to protecting the future for all Maori."