National Party leader Judith Collins is distancing herself from ACT leader David Seymour, after he posted a vaccine access code intended to help lift Māori vaccination rates.
"If you're worried about vaccination waiting times, you no longer need to make an appointment," Seymour wrote on Twitter. "All you need to do is use this access code."
The code was from Whanau Ora services provider Te Whānau o Waipareira, which is running COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Māori vaccination rates have lagged behind Pakeha, despite the threat posed by the ultra-contagious Delta variant currently spreading through Auckland.
Seymour's tweet caused outrage - Waipareira chief executive John Tamihere said Seymour was showing "his entitlement, his privilege and his disdain for vulnerable New Zealand communities", National Māori Authority chair Matthew Tukaki told him to "f**k off" and Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said she was "disgusted".
Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien called him a "cockwomble". Asked if Seymour was a hero, a cockwomble or just irresponsible, Collins said they were "awful choices" to pick from.
"David has to answer for himself. He's an adult. He's the leader of his own party. I'm thankfully neither his mother nor the leader of his party.
"And I just think, he's - the best thing I say to people is get as many people vaccinated as we can. If you're dealing with people who can be a bit hard to reach sometimes with vaccination messages, you do whatever it takes because COVID doesn't discriminate."
ACT has previously questioned why other groups - such as police - weren't prioritised for access to the vaccine.
Its own proposed vaccine rollout plan, released in March, called for "people from vulnerable or at risk populations" - including Māori and Pasifika 55 and over - to get early access to vaccines "overlapping" with MIQ and border workers and over-65s (of other ethnicities). After that, ACT's plan said "other at-risk populations'' should be prioritised - which is largely how the Government's rollout has proceeded.
But Māori haven't been rushing to get jabs, with just 20.8 percent of those eligible now fully vaccinated compared to 35.8 percent of Asian people and 33.7 percent Pakeha. Pasifika also trail, with 28.3 percent fully vaccinated.
Experts say minority communities like Māori and Pasifika are at higher risk of hospitalisation or death if they contract the disease, due to typically poorer living conditions, lack of access to medical services and underlying health conditions.
"All humans age, and receive different treatment at different stages of life, that’s biology," Seymour told Newshub, adding that some Māori had received the code even if they had already been vaccinated.
"Crudely profiling people based on their ethnic group is racism... It is absurd that I could qualify based on my Māori heritage, but a person with identical risk with a different ancestry could not. That’s why this policy is crude and race-based."
Collins said vaccination providers offering easier access to Māori was fine by National. Whanau Ora, after all, was set up under a National-led Government.
"It's Waipareira Trust, which is a Whanau Ora provider, wanting to encourage Māori to get vaccinated. Look, Māori being not vaccinated is a problem for everybody in the community.
"So my view is you just do what it takes. The National Party is not particularly ideologically-based; we're a very pragmatic party and that's our number one principal. Sort out what needs being done, and then just do it."
As for O'Brien's comment he's a "cockwomble", Seymour said it was a "real pity for the integrity of journalism".
"I often stand up for journalists when the public say they are biased, explaining they have a tough job, but O’Brien’s behaviour just takes us back to square one."
He did agree with Collins on one thing however: "It's good she's not my mother."