Crown breached Treaty of Waitangi on Covid-19 response, tribunal concludes

By Taroi Black

The Waitangi Tribunal has found the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has breached the Treaty of Waitangi, and is calling for urgent changes to funding, resourcing and data for Māori service providers.

The tribunal has upheld an urgent claim by the New Zealand Māori Council heard earlier this month.

The tribunal says the Crown's response to Covid-19 that amounts to breaches of the Treaty has "contributed significantly to the disproportionately lower levels of vaccination in Māori communities. Because the Crown has failed to equitably vaccinate Maaori, the Protection Framework [Traffic Light] will not actively protect Māori until Māori vaccination rates are comparable to the general public."

Māori health officials had advised the government before the rollouts that middle-aged Māori men were more at risk than older non-Māori.

During the hearing, the Māori Council negotiated with the government a Māori-led solution to the pandemic, which resulted in a newly structured group, called the Ngā Mana Whakahare a Covid-19 (NMWC19).

Eight improvements required

The tribunal has set out eight recommendations of how the government should engage with NMWC19. It will ensure the problems that were raised by the tribunal can now be addressed properly for Māori.

“The decision was a complete vindication of the Māori Council’s claim. Every alleged breach has been upheld. The recommendations are completely in line with what the Māori Council put forward,” its national secretary, Peter Fraser, says.

The damming report also highlights the failures by the government to ensure younger Māori were targeted by the vaccine rollout. Rangatahi Māori were 20% behind the national vaccination rate once vaccines became available to everyone.

The tribunal found the new protective traffic light framework would put Māori at greater risk when borders opened for the Christmas holidays.

The Māori Council says as a result of these breaches Māori are suffering significantly worse impacts from the Covid19 pandemic. 

Equitable vaccine rollout

The tribunal has made a number of recommendations it says need to be accepted completely, including:

  • further funding, resourcing, data, and other support to Māori service providers and communities to support their pandemic response; 
  • collection of and reporting on data relating to ethnicity and on people with disabilities;
  • monitor the pandemic response to ensure accountability to Māori;
  • ensure the paediatric vaccine and booster vaccine rollout is equitable; and
  • empower Māori to coordinate the Māori pandemic response.

The tribunal says the Crown will remain in breach of the Treaty until it ensures an equitable vaccine rollout that protects the Māori population equitably.

“The Māori Council is extremely grateful to the tribunal for conducting this inquiry on such an urgent basis. The tribunal has heard our claim and given the government its wisdom and guidance. Our recent work with the government through NMWC19 gives us a belief that it is ready to listen,” Fraser says.