COVID-19: Hannah Tamaki, Rawiri Waititi call for Māori voice at daily coronavirus briefings

Contenders for the Waiariki electorate are calling for more Māori representation at daily COVID-19 briefings.

Labour MP Tamati Coffey, Vision NZ's Hannah Tamaki, and Māori Party candidate Rawiri Waititi went head-to-head in The Hui's latest debate on Tuesday.

The contenders discussed a range of topical issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and New Zealand's response to the virus.

The Government's response has previously been criticised by Māori Party candidate Donna Pokere-Phillips, who slammed the lack of engagement with Māori leadership during the lockdown.

Modelling released in April by research group Te Pūnaha Matatini showed 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.

During Tuesday's debate, host  Mihingarangi Forbes asked Coffey why Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield was fronting daily updates and why there wasn't a Māori voice at them.

"At the time we needed as few voices as possible just getting the messages out to Aotearoa and actually with the Prime Minister there, with Dr Ashley Bloomfield there, I think that Aotearoa had a bit of confidence we were being managed in the right way," Coffey replied.

But Waititi wouldn't accept his answer.

"Now we've got Pākehā telling us again about the outbreaks on TV. There was no Māori voice in those particular reports," he said.

"There was deaf language, the other official language of this country, but there was no Māori language. That's something we need to look at."

"Exactly," Tamaki agreed. "Why wasn't there? Why wasn't there a Māori voice every day at 1pm?"

"All we saw was the Prime Minister and Dr [Ashley Bloomfield], and you know good on them, they were doing a good job, but why wasn't there a portion for Māori people to stand up and say to people, 'It's alright. Kei te pai people, we'll be fine.'"

The candidates also revealed what they will be voting for in the upcoming referendums as part of the 2020 election.

Coffey and Waititi said they would be voting 'yes' in the cannabis referendum while Tamaki said she would "absolutely not". 

She also revealed she had been speaking to gang members: "I'm telling them to vote no".

On euthanasia, Waititi and Tamaki said they would both be voting no, while Coffey said he was voting yes.

The politicians were also quizzed about New Zealand's housing crisis and Coffey admitted Labour had been "too ambitious" with KiwiBuild.

In the last two years, the Government built 548 KiwiBuilds, 3178 state houses and the waitlist for state housing quadrupled to nearly 20,000. 

Coffey said during COVID-19 motels had been a temporary solution to get homeless off the streets, but the Māori caucus was working on a long-term solution.

"This is not the future we want," he said.

On suicide prevention, Coffey said for once he agreed with Tamaki that support is needed "at the drop of a hat" for Māori. Tamaki said they need access to 24/7 support, regardless of whether it was a public holiday or not.

Waititi countered that Government money for mental health services needs to be channelled into Māori organisations with Māori solutions.

"The mental health system at the moment is run by Westernised ideology and Westernised models. What we need is more money into Māori models of care and Māori models of oranga and they need to be resourced properly."

Watch the full debate.