Simon Bridges ignored proposals for Māori at Epidemic Response Committee, MP says

National Party leader Simon Bridges.
National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Getty

By Te Aniwa Hurihanganui of RNZ

MPs sitting on the Epidemic Response Committee say Simon Bridges is to blame for the lack of Māori voices at the committee meetings.

The committee is tasked with challenging the government's response to COVID-19, but in six weeks only two Māori organisations have been invited to speak.

Labour's Ruth Dyson said she and other MPs had proposed a number of Māori spokespeople and organisations to appear at the committee, but most of those proposals had been ignored by Bridges.

"At the end of every meeting we have a discussion about further questions, further submitters, what we want to do and what key issues we want to see, and we have consistently raised the issue of under representation of Māori voices," she said.

"We have put in written proposals to the chair of the committee, the honourable Simon Bridges, specifically linked to topics that have been agreed on like health, like education, like sport... We've made genuine proposals and to date they have not been successful."

Dyson said Māori input at the committee was incredibly important.

"This is for all of New Zealand and we have to make sure that the most vulnerable, most disadvantaged, and likely most negatively impacted if things went badly wrong, should have their voices heard when we're considering these issues," she said.

"We will continue to raise these issues, but in the end the chair sets the agenda."

Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Urutā, a group of more than 50 Māori health experts and policy specialists, and the iwi chairs forum criticised the committee earlier this week for ignoring their expertise and leaving them out.

However, that message seemed to have fallen on deaf ears on Tuesday when the committee met with the education sector and didn't hear from a single Māori education provider.

In a statement, The Kōhanga Reo National Trust said it was disappointed the committee hadn't approached them to speak at the committee.

"Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust was not invited to participate in the Epidemic Response Committee's education-themed select committee. It is disappointing the committee excluded Kōhanga Reo from the process. The trust is always ready to share our experiences especially when there is an opportunity to improve the lives, health and wellbeing of our mokopuna."

Bridges can't assure Māori will appear

Bridges said it was still his aspiration to hear from more Māori at the committee, and he was considering a day dedicated to hearing from Māori.

"It's always the aspiration to hear from more folk at the committee, I can tell you quite clearly I probably have 50 proposals from really significant bodies and agencies who want to come along."

But he could not give any assurances Māori would appear at the committee any time soon.

"It does depend a bit though on how long the committee goes for, we're full this week of course," he said.

Pressed on why only two Māori leaders have spoken to the committee, Bridges told Morning Report the committee has had a busy agenda and some leaders have spoken.

"I'm very focused on what Māori leadership are focused on."

He agreed more should be on the committee but he couldn't say when he would invite them.

"Look, I'm not going to decide the committee agenda in a radio interview."

While Dyson said Bridges has rejected proposals to have more Māori leaders on, he told Morning Report Dyson has never personally raised the issue with him.

Green Party co-leader and committee member, Marama Davidson, said she would keep pushing to make sure more Māori voices could be heard.

"We're hearing more and more that the committee would actually benefit from at least a whole day of focus purely on the Māori response and Māori leadership to COVID-19... That is something we will continue to raise and ask for."

The Epidemic Response Committee is meeting with the New Zealand Cancer Society, Funeral Directors of New Zealand and representatives of the palliative care sector today.

No Māori group working in this field has been invited.