ACT leader David Seymour, National's Christopher Luxon oppose police-led iwi COVID-19 checkpoints

National leader Christopher Luxon and ACT leader David Seymour have both spoken out in opposition to police-led iwi checkpoints at the Auckland-Northland border. 

The Government's COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2) passed last month gave "power to close roads and public places and stop vehicles" to "a nominated representative of an iwi organisation". 

The law recognises an "enforcement officer" as a member of the Armed Forces, or any person the Police Commissioner, currently Andrew Coster, recognises as being a Māori warden, a nominated representative of an iwi organisation, or a Pasifika warden. 

The concern for some Māori leaders in Northland centres on Aucklanders being allowed to leave the city from December 15, as long as they are vaccinated or can provide evidence of a negative test result within 72 hours. 

With Auckland being the epicentre of the COVID-19 Delta outbreak, Māori leaders like former MP Hone Harawira fear for the wellbeing of Māori in Northland, given the low vaccination rates. Ministry of Health data shows just 67 percent of eligible Māori in Northland are fully vaccinated. 

"I think the reality is that Māori are worried," Harawira, founder of Te Tai Tokerau Border Control, told The AM Show last week

"Whānau are scared of what they see coming and they don't see anything good coming. They want to know that their people are going to be protected first and foremost."

Coster said last week police were "working closely with iwi around our plans to ensure we welcome visitors after 15 December in a way that will help protect vulnerable communities" and that "with the support of iwi, police will set up and manage checkpoints to confirm that those travelling from Auckland meet the requirements". 

National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis speaking to the press in Parliament.
National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis speaking to the press in Parliament. Photo credit: Newshub

New Opposition leader Luxon is not on board. 

"It isn't a good use of resources," he told reporters on Tuesday. 

"There's got to be a better way of doing this because it's disrupting a lot of people, it's unclear how it's going to work, how long trips are going to take, how many checkpoints you're going to be going through, what it means for tourism operators in that region, and I just think there's going to be some real challenges there."

Luxon denied racism was behind his opposition. 

"No, that's rubbish. It's actually just not operational and that's the problem. We've got Kiwis who have got pent up demand to get up north, Aucklanders in particular. We've got high levels of vaccination and we need to have real clarity about what's happening."

Seymour is equally opposed to the idea of iwi checkpoints. 

"My job as a politician is to question that and my question about these roadblocks is: are they being done because the Director-General of Health has asked police to do something to keep New Zealanders safe, or are they being done because someone who's not only unelected but was voted out by the people has appointed himself to make the law and the police are just going along to save face so that Hone Harawira doesn't do it anyway?" he told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

ACT leader David Seymour on The AM Show.
ACT leader David Seymour on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

"Because if it's the latter, then we have a serious erosion of the rule of law and our basic rights as New Zealanders to move freely around the country. 

"It is the dangerous side of Jacinda's kindness... When you've got a Prime Minister who can't stand up for what's right and always tries to meet in the middle, what gradually happens is that ordinary people's rights get swept away."

On Twitter, Seymour said Kiwis "have a right to move around the country without being stopped by thugs". 

The Labour Party Māori Caucus responded: "If it was a business group or rotary club they'd be lauded by ACT as community spirited local heroes. But somehow Treaty Partners = Thugs."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said iwi must work alongside police. 

"What we facilitated was the ability of the police to always lead where they have checks, but to use additional - if they so choose - additional support from say the Defence Force, from say Pacific wardens or Maori wardens," she told reporters on Tuesday. 

"That was an enabling function because in practice that was happening across the country, but this enables it to be done more formally - but always with the presence of the police."

The 12 iwi confederation of Te Kahu o Taonui said in a statement they were "delighted" to work in partnership with police to help keep Te Tai Tokerau safe. 

"Overall, we welcome our whānau who are double vaccinated who meet the current criteria to return home and alongside the police we will be taking our role seriously in helping to actively protect our borders."

Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill said on Tuesday police will set up and manage two short-term controlled checkpoints south of Whangārei once the northern boundary is disbanded.

The checkpoints will be located on State Highway 1 at Uretiti and the second on State Highway 12 near Maungaturoto and will focus on northbound traffic only.

"These checkpoints will operate 24/7 short term, police will then move to a new model which will involve having random checkpoints and spot checks across the district to check that people are continuing to comply with the travel restrictions."

Police will have 74 staff working on a roster to operate the checkpoints on a 24/7 basis. 

"Police will be stopping the vehicles, and Tai Tokerau Border Control will be assisting us to check vaccine passes and or proof of a negative COVID-19 test, to ensure as smooth and quick as possible a process through the checkpoints.  

"We are mindful that traffic through this region is normally busy at this time of year and motorists will know they need to plan their trip and be prepared."