ACT's Brooke van Velden calling for open, public conversations around new surgery equity tool

ACT Party Deputy Leader believes the "wheels falling off the bus" for the Government after a fiery day in Parliament that ended with Marama Davidson booted from the House.

It comes as debate continues around Te Whatu Ora's new "equity adjustor waitlist tool" for non-urgent surgeries they developed after a study found those on low incomes, in rural areas and Māori and Pacific people wait longer.

Ethnicity is just one of five factors weighed up when prioritising treatment. Those factors are clinical priority, waitlist time, geographic location, deprivation level, and ethnicity.

On Tuesday, ACT's Karen Chhour, who is Māori, asked Prime Minister Chris Hipkins in the House why her Cambodian partner could be further down the waitlist compared to her because she had a different ethnicity.

Greens co-leader Davidson interrupted, calling for Speaker Adrian Rurawhe to put an end to ACT's line of questioning.

"The nature of these questions are absolutely intended to raise racist opinions amongst the New Zealand public," she said. 

ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.
ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo credit: AM / Getty Images

But Rurawhe said Davidson had made a "very serious accusation", which he disagreed with. 

The Speaker called for Davidson to "stand, withdraw and apologise", but ruled she failed to do so properly and he kicked her out of the House. 

Davidson was booted from question time because when she did apologise, she repeated the phrase: "Stand, withdraw and apologise". MPs are meant to say "I withdraw and apologise".

ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden told AM Early on Wednesday the antics in Parliament on Tuesday show a Government that is under pressure. 

"I think you're seeing in Parliament in general a lot of the wheels falling off the bus. You've got conflicts of interest coming left, right, centre, with Stuart Nash, now with Michael Wood having 12 strikes still not out," she told AM Early host Nicky Styris.

Van Velden believes what happened with Davidson is not good for New Zealand's democracy, as ACT MPs wanted to figure out why ethnicity plays a factor in deciding wait times for non-urgent surgeries.  

She told AM Early Kiwis are concerned and anxious about what the new waitlist tool could mean for them and are choosing to keep quiet.

She believes conversations need to start happening now and need to be public.

"What I'm hearing in the community is a growing level of resentment and frustration that we've got policy being forced on us by stealth and people don't feel like they can talk about it," she said.

"It's not racism to have an open discussion when the Government is forcing policy that's based on race into people's lives. I think we actually need to have an open conversation because I'm actually hearing from people in the community who say, look, I go to my doctor and they say to me, 'If you want this new drug, are you sure you're not just a little bit Māori so we can put you on the list.'" 

Van Velden said people are asking her if it's right if their kid got cancer, they might be lower on the list than another child because of their ancestors for chemotherapy.

"These are genuine questions that people are having in their lives and privately, we just want to be able to have them publicly because it's not okay that Government policy changes and you can't talk about it," she told AM Early. 

The Prime Minister has been quick to defend the new tool saying it is an attempt to balance inequities.

"Clinical needs should be the number one... prioritisation criteria - and it is and it will be and it will continue to be," the Prime Minister assured on AM on Tuesday, but "evidence has been identified that suggests that Māori, Pacific, those from rural communities and those from low-income backgrounds have been waiting longer with the same clinical need for health care as other New Zealanders".

He said that's why Te Whatu Ora has taken action.

"People shouldn't be getting less access to health care because they're Māori, Pacific, from a rural community or from a low-income background. So my understanding is that in Northland and I think it's one of the Auckland DHBs, they've been looking at ways to reduce that - they've been looking at what the criteria are that they use to prioritise those who are on the waitlist to make sure that they're dealing with that past discrimination."

Watch the full interview with Brooke van Velden in the video above.