After a week of Waitangi Tribunal hearings into the government handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA) says the evidence presented confirms what it already knew, the government bungled the Māori vaccination roll out. Now Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern concedes the government should have done 'a better job, earlier on'.
‘The Crown system remains inherently racist’ says Lady Tureiti Moxon, Chair of the National Urban Māori Authority in her assessment of the government's Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
‘The weight of the compelling and comprehensive evidence on the government’s COVID response reveals a bureaucracy running the country that continues to fail its Treaty partnership obligations with Māori.’ She added.
Amongst the more damning evidence heard by the tribunal was that government ignored advice from the director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to add a 15 year age band reduction that would make Māori eligible for vaccination sooner at each stage of the rollout. The idea being the offset would make up for the seven year gap in Māori and Pākehā life expectancy, as well as lower vaccine accessibility and increased comorbidities for Māori.
Claimants at the tribunal said not only did the government not adequately prioritise Maori vaccination, they also prevented Māori health providers from supporting whānau to get vaccinated through lack of funding and withholding of information, despite an admission by Dr Bloomfield that Māori providers were ‘absolutely the gold standard’.
In spite of multiple court rulings, bureaucrats have withheld Māori vaccination information from Whānau Ora providers who argued it could have helped them target communities with low vaccination rates. The ministry only began to release the information as of Friday.
‘Despite the recent win in the High Court by Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency in terms of data sharing, here we are still having to go to the Waitangi Tribunal to put our case forward in our urgent claim,’ said Moxon
Above: Breeze Harema-Watts (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hāmoa) and Te Amokura Hepi (Te Arawa, Tūwharetoa), are amongst the youngest vaccinators in the motu at just 17 years old.
NUMA says evidence presented to the tribunal also critiqued the business sector receiving $1 Billion every fortnight in Covid relief funding, versus a one-off $120 Million allocated for Māori vaccination.
‘New Zealanders were not told by the Crown that most of this small fund went to private health corporations – not to Māori providers battling COVID on the frontline who most need it.’ The rōpū said.
‘Unless the Crown is willing to engage with both Whānau Ora Commissioning Agencies and Māori providers on the ground, it’s very difficult for us to take control over our own health because the power and resources remain with the Crown.’ It continued.
Projecting beyond the claim, Tureiti echoed concerns of regional Iwi warning of a ‘tsunami’ heading towards unvaccinated Māori and Māori providers due to the removal of borders between Auckland and the rest of Aotearoa in the coming days, followed by the Australian bubble opening up on 16 January.
‘It’s short sighted for the Crown to open up the borders so close to Christmas,’ she says.
‘Those cases of Māori getting COVID aren’t getting any less, it’ll be more. We are also leading in the number of hospital admissions. It’s exposing all our unvaccinated under 12 year olds – who will be even more at risk.’
On Saturday in an interview with Newshub the Prime Minister admitted Maori had faced unnecessary barriers in the vaccination campaign.
‘I often think about what we could have done earlier on to support our Māori providers better and I think we could have done a better job earlier on and I think they hit some brick walls earlier on that I would have liked to have dealt with better.’ She told the network.
Tureiti says the government has made a ‘clear prioritisation of economic interests over the lives of Maori’ and says she holds concerns about the capacity of ‘the already fatigued and stretched [health] workforce over Christmas’.
‘Every day there are a growing number of people self-isolating. Many Māori providers who have been working hard battling this for 2 years are taking a break. Who will be looking after those whānau then?’ she said.