Willie Jackson unleashes on David Seymour, calls out 'ridiculous' comments from Dr Shane Reti

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has unleashed on ACT's David Seymour and called comments from National's Dr Shane Reti about Māori life expectancy "ridiculous".

He referred to Seymour as "maybe the most useless advocate for Māori we have ever seen in Parliament" and questioned how National would partner with ACT in the future considering Seymour's policies to abolish the likes of the Ministry of Māori Development.

Seymour in response has called out Jackson for personally attacking him instead of defending his own ministry.

It comes as National is called upon to clarify which of ACT's policies it may support in any future potential governing arrangement, considering the two parties will likely need to work together to gain power.

"The only way on polling I have seen that National could be in Government is with ACT," deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on Tuesday morning.

"Therefore, they have to front up to New Zealanders to tell them which of ACT's policies they will accept. Will it be raising the age of the pension, will it be freezing the minimum wage, will it be cutting the Winter Energy Payment, will it be taking away services and departments that look after our most vulnerable. Christopher Luxon has to answer that."

ACT released its alternative budget on Monday, promising those policies as well as many others it believes will offer tax relief to Kiwis and cut bureaucracy. Among them is getting rid of what it calls "demographic ministries", like the Ministry of Māori Development, Ministry for Women and Human Rights Commission. 

"Most of these ministries replicate work which should already be done in policy ministries or the Ministry of Culture and Heritage,' ACT's budget document says. "Any additional influence they do have over Government policy is likely to be in the damaging direction of undermining the unity of New Zealand as a modern multicultural society."

Jackson, who has frequently sparred with Seymour, said he can't see how National can partner with ACT "when you have got a National Party who values their relationship with Māori'. 

'[National] have got a long history with Māori. They have been involved with the development of Māori affairs, they have been involved in the development of Te Puni Kokiri. 

"I don't know how that works out for Mr Seymour. I don't know how that works out for the National Party. I would have thought it was sorta untenable really in terms of going forward."

Willie Jackson.
Willie Jackson. Photo credit: Newshub.

National has said it would scrap the Māori Health Authority if it gets into government - a proposal leader Luxon repeated on Tuesday - but Jackson thinks National will "get on board".

"But the way ACT is going, you can't get on board with a party like that. He is from another time now Seymour. He is so desperate for votes. He will do anything and say anything to try and attract a right-wing prejudice vote or prejudice view,' Jackson said. 

"It is a very sad watching Seymour, a man who claimed he was Māori. You just don't know where he is coming from now."

Jackson went on to say Seymour is "absolutely deliberately dog-whistling" and "perpetuates lies and myths".

Asked what he meant by saying Seymour "claimed" he was Māori, when the ACT MP is Māori and has ties to the Ngāpuhi iwi, Jackson said he meant Seymour had "claimed his whakapapa". 

"I was there at the hui in 2017… he is just a useless Māori. You can't deny his whakapapa. You don't deny anyone their whakapapa. It doesn't make them some great advocate for Māori," Jackson told reporters.

"He would probably be the worst advocate for Māori in terms of politics. I have never seen anyone like it. He is actively campaigning for votes because he is watching his vote come right down… maybe the most useless advocate for Māori we have ever seen in Parliament."

Seymour tweeted that that Jackson's comments showed why his ministry needed to be disbanded.

"The fact Willie chose to attack me instead of explaining what value the the Ministry of Māori Development adds just shows why we should get rid of it and save $71 million. I feel sorry for its staff. The Minister can’t even explain what value they add."

National's deputy leader, Nicola Willis, wouldn't comment on ACT's policies on Monday, saying it was "far too early" to be discussing other parties' ideas. 

Luxon mostly kept to that line on Tuesday.

"I am not interested in the ACT policy per se. We are going to focus on the National Party policy… those conversations will happen much further down the road. They are not going to happen now."

But he did say scrapping the ministries as ACT was proposing was "not our policy". He also said there was no change to National's superannuation policy and that National had lifted the minimum wage while in government. Luxon said Willis would be his Finance Minister if National entered government. 

Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon.
Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub.

Jackson, a Labour MP, also took aim at National's health spokesperson, Dr Reti, who on Monday night remarked to The Hui that life expectancy for Māori had improved since 1840.

Asked to clarify his comments, Dr Reti told reporters on Tuesday: "The point I was making was that if we look back to 1840, the Māori life expectancy was around 30 years. Today it is about 73.4. There or thereabouts".

"Clearly, there has been improvements. I think we need to be careful that we don't diminish the work of many good people who have brought it to this point in time anyway. But the most important point is what we have today, how we explain those seven years difference in life expectancy and across a range of other metrics."

Jackson said Dr Reti's comparison was "nonsense" and "ridiculous". 

"Don't get me wrong, I respect Shane. He knows having been involved in his local community in terms of health that Māori health has been at a catastrophic level and there needs to be a special strategy around Māori health. 

"We have tried everything. They have not appropriated enough resourcing for that kaupapa and we are looking to obviously appropriate major funding towards it but also give Māori the opportunity to lead it. I think Shane is talking nonsense."

Dr Reti was asked if his comparison was ridiculous. 

"What it does is it issues respect to the Māori health providers and others who have brought Māori to where we are today, but also says today is not good enough," he replied. 

His leader, Luxon, said the main focus should be on the currently disparities. 

"The bigger issue is what we are doing going forward. How do we actually deliver outcomes."