Ardern seeks Maori mandate for COVID plan

Asia's Tech News Daily

Ardern seeks Maori mandate for COVID plan

Jacinda Ardern's government has quietly staged a series of meetings this weekend with Maori groups as it seeks buy-in for New Zealand's fight against COVID-19.

Many Maori leaders have felt sidelined by the government in New Zealand's COVID-19 response, which has disproportionately impacted Maori.

Others believe the new phase of the pandemic demand a greater Maori ownership of decisions.

Several who have participated in the meetings have shared their views with AAP, requesting anonymity given their role in the good-faith consultation.

“We seek that we're in the room. Part of the decision making, influencing and being co-designers of the response,” one said.

“They can't keep throwing stuff at us that we're not a part of.”

Ideas being debated include a Maori response fund to upgrade infrastructure at community facilities like marae, allowing Maori to isolate and be treated for COVID-19.

“Those facilities are right there and could help. So let's take advantage of them,” one attendee said.

Another proposal is incorporating Maori wardens into border checkpoints, allowing Maori and Police to work together to safeguard communities.

Some representatives want a snap lockdown of badly affected suburbs of Auckland – although it is unlikely to win support from Ms Ardern's government.

“Listen to anyone in Auckland and they will tell you, they are tired of lockdown,” another said of the 62-day lockdown.

“Everyone is exhausted. We need solutions that take us out of lockdown.”

Maori and Pacific peoples make up around a quarter of NZ's population – but three quarters of those infected in the current Delta outbreak.

Additionally, Maori vaccination rates trail those of pakeha, or non-Maori.

As of Friday, 41 per cent of eligible Maori have been fully vaccinated, compared with 61 per cent of total eligible population.

The low rates have caused much consternation, with many advocates and public health experts accusing Ms Ardern of leaving Maori behind as she attempts to transition from NZ's much-lauded elimination strategy.

“Where the government let Maori down was not taking into account Maori demographics when they rolled out the vaccination tiers … Maori were the last cab off the rank,” another attendee told AAP.

The meetings – staged on Friday, Saturday and Sunday ahead of a crunch cabinet meeting on Monday – are aimed at giving Maori ownership of the next steps in the response.

Maori Ministers, including Willie Jackson, Peeni Henare, Kelvin Davis and Kiri Allan are central to the talks.

As soon as Monday, Ms Ardern's government is due to announce a switch to a “traffic light” style system to combat outbreaks, ditching its current alert level system.

Dozens of Maori representatives met with the Maori ministers over Zoom on Friday night, when they were shown the traffic light system.

A second meeting took place on Saturday night, allowing for greater feedback on the new regime.

A final meeting was scheduled to take place on Sunday, when recommendations to Monday's cabinet meeting will be finalised.

All who spoke to AAP said they wanted a specialised Maori response alongside the traffic light system.

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