Hone Harawira says last-minute police decision to vet checkpoint members means half stood down

Former Māori Party MP Hone Harawira is upset at the police, claiming they vetted members of his iwi-led checkpoint group Tai Tokerau Border Control ahead of the Northland boundary coming into effect.

Harawira told RNZ's Morning Report the vetting happened at the last minute, saying it "really kicked us in the ass". 

"Our people, over the last 18-20 months, have included bus drivers, gang members, doctors, lawyers, mothers, teachers - all sorts of people. Now, all of a sudden at the last minute, it got dropped on us that everyone had to be vetted."

Tai Tokerau Border Control is assisting the police in stopping vehicles to check COVID-19 vaccine passes or proof of a negative test at Northland's checkpoints.

Those checkpoints came into effect on Wednesday, the same day Auckland's border lifted. Iwi had requested the checkpoints to protect Northland's people during the summer period, due to the region's low COVID-19 vaccination rates. 

"If you look at how iwi and hapū have gone about protecting their rohe, my iwi Ngāti Kuri has taken a really hard-line around shutting the border up," said Harry Burkhardt, the chair of Te Kahu o Taonui - a group of different Northland iwi aiming to protect communities from COVID. 

"We were firm that ultimately it was our responsibility to protect our uri and whakapapa," he told RNZ last week.

Harawira said, however, "we've had to stand down about half of our people" from helping to provide that protection following the vetting process.

"That's really killed us," he told Morning Report on Wednesday.

"If it was that reasonable [to vet us], they could have asked us months and months and months ago. They could have asked us in March 2020. 

"They didn't ask us until two days ago so that's really knocked everything on the head… iwi isn't going to let us come out here and put murderers on the line and, as it happens, over the last 18-20 months we've had no problems whatsoever."

Tai Tokerau Border Control regional coordinator Reuben Taipari told RNZ the vetting was "very unfortunate". 

"We've got people coming from all over the north; from up Karikari, Waitangi - all coming down here and wanting to help and support this initiative - and then we've been told and the last hour, 'They must be all vetted before they can stand on the road.' And yet we've been together for 20 months and this has never been asked of us before.

"Why are they doing that to us today of all days?"

Northland District Commander Supt Tony Hill said the vetting was needed by law.

"The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act requires all of those working on the checkpoint line alongside police to be vetted," he said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

"Planning and logistics for the checkpoints have been going right up until yesterday and so police have had short time frames to ensure vetting was completed.

"All those who are working on the line with police have been vetted."

Those who didn't pass vetting will still be able to volunteer in "support roles" at the border, Hill said - but can't interact with the public.