Coronavirus: Willie Jackson defends Kelvin Davis' 'ignorant' comments about unvaccinated Māori

A Government minister has admitted the vaccine rollout could have been better, at least when it comes to reaching Māori.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has also defended his colleague Kelvin Davis, who at the weekend said "ignorant" people were "staying home" despite "millions of public funding" targeted at lifting the poor rate of uptake amongst tangata whenua. 

The latest figures show amongst eligible people (aged 12 and over) uptake amongst Māori is the lowest of any ethnicity tracked by the Ministry of Health. Just 23 percent of eligible Māori have had two jabs, compared with 37.5 percent of Pākehā, 41 percent of Asian people and 31.7 percent of Pasifika. 

In some regions, the share of fully vaccinated Māori is barely half non-Māori - in Taranaki just 16 percent of Māori were fully vaccinated as of Sunday, compared to 29 percent of the non-Māori, ministry figures show. 

"It's been tricky. Could we have done things better? Of course, of course," Jackson told The AM Show on Thursday, saying Thursday's rollout of mobile vaccination buses will help improve vaccination rates in hard-to-reach communities. 

"We've been learning along the way. But I think in the main, we've done quite well with our Māori providers - we've got our funding for them in terms of Whanau Ora, we're working with them closely at ground level, but it hasn't been perfect."

Jackson's willingness to admit the rollout hasn't been perfect is in contrast to the Māori-Crown Relations Minister, who told Newshub Nation on Saturday it wasn't the Government's fault Māori weren't coming forward to get jabs.

"There's no excuse for being ignorant. It's a simple message, go and get vaccinated. It's okay to blame the Government but we have to take responsibility for ourselves as well. The right thing to do is to go and get vaccinated," Davis said. 

"How many more millions of public funding do we need to keep giving to Māori service providers so more Māori go and get their vaccines? We're saying here's the money, go and inform the Māori communities of the benefits of the vaccine. But at the end of the day, people are staying home."

Jackson said in the regions where many Māori haven't signed up to get vaccinated, there are "anti-vaxxers" and people are hesitant because they don't trust the Government. 

"Some of them hate the Government whether it's National or Labour. You're not comparing apples with apples sometimes, you know? Everyone says 'look at where Māori are and look at where Pakeha are', but it's very tough when some of our people have got a history and generations of resentment against us. 

"So we're trying to find new ways and strategies of working with our people on the ground."

Willie Jackson.
Willie Jackson. Photo credit: The AM Show

Davis' comments came in for stinging criticism from the Greens' Elizabeth Kerekere, who called them "disappointing" and said "pointing the finger back at our people will only dampen communication to get the vaccination".

But Jackson said Davis had a point.

"We've got to tell families to stand up sometimes. We've got to say, 'get those kids out, get those mokopuna out'. We can't just sit back and say 'it's all the Government's fault'. 

"It's like when I was Employment Minister when myself and Shane Jones said 'get off the couch - you can't have a life watching PlayStation, you have to take some personal responsibility'. But you don't want to go too far - the ACT Party say it's all personal responsibility, and the Government should have nothing to do with things. The Government's got quite a lot of responsibility. 

"It's a sort of twin-strategy here. And of course, if we go too far [ACT Party leader David] Seymour and others say we're racist and we're separatists and why are we doing targeted funding for Māori? It's a balancing act in politics."