Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson met with the leaders of four gangs remotely on Friday as part of a vaccination push.
The virtual meeting, that took place via Zoom and was revealed today on TVNZ's Q + A, continues a strategy of engagement as the Delta outbreak spreads through some of Aotearoa's most marginalised communities.
Jackson told Jake Tame the meeting included Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha.
It comes amid news the Delta outbreak had been moving among gangs, and there had been difficulty engaging with members for testing, contact tracing and vaccinations.
This week it was revealed two senior gang leaders from outside Auckland had been given special exemptions to enter the city to assist officials with the public health response.
We've got to do something, we've got to look after all New Zealand," Jackson said.
"This is a public health crisis. Someone's got to work with the gangs, someone's got to engage with the gangs and maybe that someone should be me because I've worked with gangs for many, many years," Jackson said.
The meeting was a "good start", he said, and involved developing a strategy to boost vaccinations and engage with officials during the outbreak.
Jackson said he would not reveal the gangs he met with, but they were "some of the major gangs in this country".
Jackson said he was "really pleased" to see following the meeting that more than 100 Black Power members and their whānau vaccinated in Auckland on Saturday.
Auckland Black Power president Mark Pitman led the effort and was the first one to get the jab as he wanted to lead by example.
"I went to school with Mark, I played rugby with Mark, I know the history of these guys," Jackson said.
Jackson said he wanted to build on that "good work", along with former Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom head Sonny Fatupaito and Mongrel Mob life member Harry Tam.
"I want to replicate that leadership across the spectrum, so all New Zealanders can be safe, you know, someone's got to get in there, rather than just talk about it."
Jackson said the meeting came about after discussions with other ministers and cabinet.
"We have talked about it in terms of fellow ministers and cabinet, and I put my hand up, because I have the background and experience."
They were still working out what kind of support would be offered, but Jackson said it would not involve "money going into gang accounts".
He said he had been having "hard chats" with gangs for 40 years and knew "all their tricks".
"No one can pull the wool over my eyes."
Support would likely involve a continuation of the "Shot Bro" bus outreach programme and working with vaccination teams.
"We must aim for a 90, 95, maybe 100 per cent vaccination rate with these guys."
Jackson was also pressed about the overall Māori vaccination rates, who remained about a third behind the overall rate.
This was largely due to the rollout implicitly prioritising European/Other and Asian ethnicity. This is due to the rollout's focus on older groups initially, and the fact they are disproportionately represented in the essential worker groups, despite research showing Māori and Pasifika are much more vulnerable to the virus at lower ages.
Despite huge efforts recently to address these inequities, the Māori rate continues to slip.
At the beginning of August, according to the Ministry of Health, Māori as a population were fully vaccinated at a rate of 69 per cent compared to the non-Māori rate. This had dropped now to 61 per cent, and in some parts of the country less than 50 per cent for younger age groups.
The Government has come under fire for rejecting calls to prioritise Māori earlier in the rollout, along with devolving resources to Māori-run organisations, which have so far proven incredibly successful.
This week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern along with Associate Health Minister (Māori) Peeni Henare toured many remote communities in a bid to promote boosting these rates.
Jackson said he acknowledged the rates were much lower than they wanted, but a lot of work was being done currently to turn that around.
He also rejected criticism the Government should have refocused the rollout on equity, saying if Māori had been prioritised it would have drawn criticism.
"You can't win, but we [all Māori] became eligible from September the first, things are going through the roof."
On Thursday a record 10,145 Māori received a dose of the vaccine, including 4010 first doses and 6135 second doses.