Coronavirus: Northlanders 'beginning to move on' from COVID, Auckland border should go - Shane Jones

While Northland iwi are saying Aucklanders should bring body bags with them if they're planning to holiday there over summer, a high-profile former MP says they should bring their EFTPOS cards too.

Shane Jones, former Labour and Northland-based NZ First MP, told Newshub Nation on Saturday not all Māori were down with calls to keep the region locked down until Māori vaccination rates lift.

"I personally believe the border should be open... I am diametrically opposed to the prevailing iwi perspective that we should lock down until the laggards catch up with the rest of us. I think we just need to deal with the health consequences."

Haami Piripi of Northland iwi collective Te Kahu o Taonui told RNZ on Thursday the science was clear - the region's low vaccination rates posed an "extreme danger", so the border should stay until they were above 90 percent double-dosed.

"The science has really led us to this point of feeling like our people in the north are backed into a corner by the spread of the virus… Our last defense which is vaccination, is going to be negated by an opening of the borders, which is going to allow a massive influx of people into our region, which is going to have the inevitable result of bringing in the virus with it." 

Former Mana MP Hone Harawira, who now runs the local Te Tai Tokerau Border Control group, said a 'level 5' should be designed and placed on Northland.

"Let's go hard, nail this bitch and plan for a decent Christmas," he told Te Ao in October. 

Māori, thanks to poverty, living conditions and a high rate of pre-existing conditions, are especially susceptible to COVID-19. They also trail other groups in getting vaccinated - Te Pati Māori squarely putting the blame on the Government for adopting a "white" rollout and ignoring advice from Māori experts.

Senior Māori Labour MP Kelvin Davis in September - when the Māori vaccination rate was 21 percent, and Pākehā 35 percent - said Māori were choosing to "stay home" instead of getting jabbed, deflecting criticism that has only gotten stronger in the past few weeks as Delta spreads through vulnerable Māori communities. Māori make up 42 percent of cases in the outbreak, three times their share of population.

But Jones says Māori need to take some responsibility for their own health.

"I don't want to be intimidated by an overwhelming view that the iwi give about body bags and other such hyperbole. We've got to get back to self-responsibility. This concept of tino rangatiratanga that's tossed around by the academics, it means charity starts at home.

"This notion for example in the North that we're only going to get our young people vaccinated if we pay them to get vaccinated… that in my view is a very dangerous precedent to set amongst a new generation of youth. If you follow that, my uncles and granduncles would have never gone to the Māori Battalion unless they got a pork chop." 

Kiwi soldiers who fought in World War I were required to be vaccinated - and jabs could be carried out without their consent, if they resisted. 

"The average Northlander is beginning to move on from the current COVID narrative," said Jones. "They're thinking about Christmas, they're flooding the internet 0800 number with vaccine passport requests... I'm not saying that commerce should always overwhelm public health messaging, but in the absence of commerce and a flourishing economy, the north - in my view - is likely to drown in red ink before we all perish through COVID."

Shane Jones.
Shane Jones. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Jones will be hoping that message, however harsh, is popular amongst Northlanders - he's plotting a return to Parliament in 2023, after coming third in the seat in 2020 and losing his spot.

"I thoroughly am committed to joining the ranks of Māori parliamentarians, parliamentarians in general. But I think when I go forward."

Whether that's as leader or backing Winston Peters, 76, hasn't been determined.

"He certainly has my 1000 percent support. He's the ultimate comeback kid of New Zealand politics… I genuinely haven't had an in-depth discussion of this nature with [Peters], but in the event that's the direction he decides to follow, he'll be astounded by the widespread support and the huge number of Kiwis that are renewing their membership of New Zealand First."

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