Coronavirus: Calls to keep Auckland locked down to protect Māori are patronising - Labour MP Willie Jackson

A prominent member of Labour's Māori Caucus has defended the Government's COVID-19 response strategy, which has been under fire from Te Pati Māori and the Greens who think Māori are being exposed to unnecessary risk. 

Māori are overrepresented in the latest outbreak figures, making up 43 percent of all cases and almost a third of hospitalisations. They also lag behind in vaccinations, with just  64 percent of those eligible having had their second dose, compared to 84 percent of Pākehā, 79 percent of Pasifika and over 95 percent of Asian Kiwis. 

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, interviewed by Newshub Nation at the weekend, placed the blame on the Government's "very white" response strategy. She reiterated that position during an interview with The Hui on Monday. 

"It's great to see the investment that's starting to happen now we're at the bottom of the cliff and the tragedies are happening, but what we want to see now is not just a mono-cultural approach - that actually we have a loud, proud Māori COVID response and we own that as a nation that's proud to have Te Tiriti and tangata whenua," she told host Mihingarangi Forbes.

Te Pāti Māori has called for top-down vaccine mandates from Wellington to be abolished, saying they're only needed because the vaccine rollout "failed so miserably" at reaching communities such as Māori. 

The Greens have split with Labour on the response too, saying the gradual reopening of Auckland even as cases continue to crop up, and the looming shift into the traffic light framework in early December, is too much, too fast.  

"We're pleased that our Government chose the elimination strategy," co-leader Marama Davidson told The Hui. "It's when we started to veer away from the elimination strategy that the Greens made our difference very clear."

They want "equitably high" vaccination rates amongst Māori before further opening up. Despite lower life expectancies, a younger population and public health experts warning early on Māori were at higher risk of catching the virus, access priority to the vaccine was largely based on age.

"COVID experts have been very clear - just a little bit longer while we urgently prioritise fixing regional public health, fixing vaccination rates, testing the traffic light system properly," said Davidson. 

Labour's Willie Jackson however says both are treating Māori "like we're all one homogenous group".

"We're not. You know, 60-70 percent of our people don't want to know about the marae, they don't want to know about the Māori Party, heck, they don't even want to know about Māori in Labour, right? So you're dealing with a disenfranchised group. 

"[Ngarewa-Packer] talks like we're all on the kaupapa, we're all gonna do this. That's just so far from the truth it's not funny. She needs to realise that we need a couple of strategies. We need the strategy [she] talks about for our kaupapa people, absolutely. Then we need the other strategy - the mandates work."

He said it's not fair to expect Māori to stay locked up, even if it’s for their own protection, when most don't want to be. 

"People in Papakura, people in Manurewa, people in Māngere, Ngati Whatua, were all saying they don't want to be in level 4. It's okay for people outside the Auckland area to say 'we'll lock you up and keep you in level 4'. You say that to 10 Māori living in a two- or three-room place…

"Lockdown is [protecting Māori], but it's not for us to patronise our people… Sadly, our people are breaking the rules everywhere… the reality is our people need jobs too. 

"While it might be ideal for the Māori Party, the Māori doctors and the Māori academics to lock our people up for the next couple of years, that's not a reality in terms of Auckland - our people need the freedom to move."