National leader Judith Collins has likened the proposed Māori Health Authority to "segregation" of last century, seeming to suggest rights are being stripped away.
The Government announced a major shake-up of the health sector last week, including plans to create a new organisation called Health NZ to replace the 20 DHBs, to enable consistency of healthcare across New Zealand.
The Government will also create a Māori Health Authority, which will work in partnership with Health NZ to commission care across the country, ensuring the needs and expectations of Māori are met through design and delivery.
The changes are in response to the Health and Disability System Review, led by Helen Clark's former chief of staff Heather Simpson, which found the public health system, was complex and not equitable for Kiwis.
The interim Health and Disability System Review report in 2019 found Māori have "not been served well by the system", and the "system overall has not delivered Māori health and wellbeing outcomes that are fair".
Despite evidence that Māori have not been served equitably in health, Collins fears the Māori Health Authority will take New Zealand back to the era of "segregation" - when Māori and Pākehā lived separately.
"As far as the National Party is concerned, segregation was an appalling idea last century and it remains an appalling idea in 2021," Collins said on Wednesday.
An Auckland University paper published last year looked into the era of segregation in New Zealand with a focus on Pukekohe from 1925 to the early 1960s. During that period, Māori were segregated in society so as not to offend Pākehā.
Māori were forced to sit in designated sections of the cinema, were denied taxi rides and forced to stand for white bus passengers, and were only allowed to use the school swimming baths on Fridays, after which the dirty water was changed.
Collins seemed to suggest we're heading back to an era of segregation.
"Equality is a core value of the National Party and we will not budge on our position that every New Zealander, no matter their race, should have access to the same rights and opportunities including access to healthcare.
"Before we rush down this path, we need to pause and consider where segregated systems will lead us. If our te Tiriti obligations demand a separate health system, do we also need a separate education system or justice system?
"This is an important conversation we need to have before we take even one step towards carving up our communities."
Collins said Labour "needs to be honest with New Zealanders" about how the Treaty of Waitangi and the idea of co-governance is being interpreted by the Government.
"We can argue the language and meaning of the Treaty, but the Prime Minister and her Government should be open and transparent about how they are approaching it at the very least."
Collins fears the power the Māori Health Authority will hold, after a Cabinet paper revealed it could veto decisions made by Health NZ.
"What does the Government hope to achieve by separating our healthcare along racial lines and then placing the power of veto in the hands of one race-based institution?"
Last week Collins endorsed a view on Twitter that the proposal was "separatist" and promised to scrap the health restructure if National wins in 2023.
Despite Collins' dismissal of the Māori Health Authority, National is aiming to attract more diversity, according to a review of the party leaked to Newshub. National will run candidates in the Māori electorates in 2023.
But Collins is adamant talent will prevail over ethnicity and gender.
"I think it is absolutely crucial that the National Party, like this country, does not go down a path of quotas, looking at people based on their ethnicity, or their gender or their age, rather than looking at what they bring to the table," she told The AM Show.
The Māori Health Authority has been welcomed by the Māori Party and the Greens. Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi described it as a transformational step to address inequities and live up to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.