Māori Party 'disgusted' Police Commissioner Andrew Coster didn't show up to meeting

The Māori Party says it's "disgusting" the Police Commissioner didn't turn up to a meeting with its co-leaders to discuss allegations of racism and a taskforce to investigate anti-Māori speech.

But police say Andrew Coster is apologetic and looking to reschedule, while Detective Superintendent Greg Nicholls still attended the meeting.

Last week, the party called for a taskforce led by police and the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to investigate "anti-Maori hate speech from white supremacist organisations". 

"We are experiencing an unprecedented increase in racist rhetoric across social media by white supremacist organisations that is inciting hate speech and violence against tangata whenua" co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said at the time. 

The Māori Party expressed concern last week about police's handling of complaints about a video making threats towards the party and Māori people in general. A man was later arrested after an investigation into a video.

The party met with Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the NZSIS, and on Wednesday said they were meant to have discussions with the Police Commissioner. But while the co-leaders said officials turned up, the commissioner didn't.

"He was a no-show," Ngarewa-Packer said. "We are really disappointed. It shows to us how he feels and how they feel about the types of attacks and threats that Maori are receiving and we didn't even get notification he wasn't showing up."

"For the Commissioner not to show up and to do a complete no show on Te Pāti Māori is disgusting."

She said the party wanted assurances the commissioner is "addressing the systemic racism that is coming out of the police force" and "taking seriously the threats that have come out to Tangata Whenua in the last couple of weeks". 

A police spokesperson told Newshub that Coster was "apologetic for inconvenience of a change in schedule and had asked to reschedule as early as later this week". Police say Coster is looking forward to meeting with the MPs.

"Detective Superintendent Greg Nicholls met with MPs this afternoon to provide an update on their investigation, and to outline the timeline of events before an arrest was made in relation to a video."

Andrew Coster.
Andrew Coster. Photo credit: The Hui.

Co-leader Rawiri Waititi said the meeting was meant to be an opportunity to discuss specific operational matters with the commissioner that the Minister of Police won't go into. 

"We are really disappointed at the way we have been treated through this whole process. We have been putting pressure on this Government and the Minister of Police about the racial profiling of Maori and the way we are treated within the system," the MP said.

"Today is a prime example of how Maori are actually treated in the police system where the commissioner hasn't turned up when he said he will turn up."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament on Wednesday it was clear that extremist groups with racist ideologies are "certainly in existence in Aotearoa New Zealand".

"Our job is to make sure that we work in a preventative fashion to try and protect people from that ideology and that we respond where we see it using the full force of the criminal justice system," she said.

"It is, however, up to our police to make sure that they are doing that. They have operational independence.

"I understand the Member has sought to meet both with the Commissioner of Police around those issues and has met with the minister responsible for our intelligence agencies. I hope he received a receptive audience to address the challenges the Member has raised."

Ardern said it was her expectation that agencies would be looking at white supremacist actions already.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images.

There have been a number of allegations made towards the police force over the last year regarding race, such as police's use of tactical pain against Māori offenders - which has been described as "racist" - as well as the photographing of rangatahi.

In March, police launched a project with the University of Waikato to examine biases with police policies, processes and practices. Coster told Newshub Nation at the time that while officers on the whole are "not racist", some "people will let us down". 

Earlier this month, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon suggested police wear body cameras to help address unconscious and racial bias.

"It strikes me there is an option that could help," he said. "While the use of body cameras by police is not a magic solution for all issues in this space, it may be a useful item in the toolbox alongside the University of Waikato work."

University of Auckland Māori studies Professor Margaret Mutu last week said "Māori are very used to white supremacy and we experience it on a day-to-day basis".

"It's very, very normalised in this country, and often when Māori say that white supremacy or racism is affecting them, we're not believed."

Off the back of the Government's announcement that it will introduce firearms prohibition orders to prevent high-risk people from accessing or using firearms, Waititi was concerned it could disproportionately affect Māori. 

That brought questions about racism within the police back to the fore. National's Judith Collins rejected racism was systemic within the force. 

"I think allegations are very easy to make, particularly when the word systemic is added to it. The fact is, is that it's important that we understand that the people who are often the victims of this violence are often Māori."