Te Pāti Māori demands Speaker apologises for vaccination debate comments

By Will Trafford

Te Pāti Māori has laid a formal complaint with Trevor Mallard, parliament’s speaker, saying he colluded with the government to attack Māori leaders as the reason Māori vaccination rates trail the general population.

During question time this week co-leader Rawiri Waititi grilled Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson on if the vaccine rollout had failed Māori.

Waititi’s question was met by an interjection from Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins who posed his own question to Robinson asking

"does having prominent Māori political figures actively discouraging people from being vaccinated help or hinder the vaccination effort?”.

Hipkins was referring to a report this week where former Māori Party President Pem Bird (Ngāti Manawa) told Māori Television’s Herewini Waikato many in Murupara don’t want the Pfizer vaccine and are waiting for others more effective against the Delta strain.

"Overseas data shows that other vaccines have performed better in Israel, the USA and Africa. We've seen this and it's a good thing. We choose that option," Bird said.

"We're not following the Crown's directive. We won't jump when we're told to. We want the freedom to choose."

Waititi said Hipkins’ question was an "assertion" and out of order, he said Bird was acting on advice from a local Murapara GP, a Pākehā who's declined administering the vaccine and is facing review by the Ministry of Health for a stance officials say is irresponsible.

‘There are some things which are assertions, and there are some things which are matters of fact’ Mallard fired back.

‘My old propping mate Pem Bird who I played quite a bit of rugby against in the King Country some time ago is properly described as a leading political figure and I think the member himself will know history in that way, it's just a matter of record’ he said.

In Waititi’s complaint he disputed Mallard’s naming of Pem Bird saying it was ‘grossly inappropriate and unbecoming of your position as Speaker’

Waititi said Mallard’s actions were a ‘a direct attack on both Mr Pem Bird and Te Pāti Māori’.

Te Pāti Māori disputed another decision where Mallard said Waititi could not say the government had ignored the advice of Māori health experts.

Waititi argued his statement was a matter of public record given Māori health leaders have been vocal against government decisions to loosen lockdown restrictions.

Waititi finished his letter demanding redress by the speaker.

‘We expect a retraction of your comments and a public apology to both Mr Pem Bird and Te Pāti Māori’ he wrote.