If Pākehā shopkeepers or Rotary members were helping police at Covid-19 checkpoints they'd be praised, but Māori who do so are pilloried, Kelvin Davis says.
Ahead of Christmas, some Northland locals are worried an influx of unvaccinated outsiders could jeopardise remote areas and places with low vaccination rates.
Police and Tai Tokerau Border Control volunteers will be at checkpoints on State Highway 1 near Uretiti Beach in Waipū, and in Maungatūroto when the Auckland border restrictions change next week.
Davis, Labour's deputy leader and Te Tai Tokerau MP, was asked about the checkpoints this morning.
"Well, it's about protecting families and loved ones up there. There are a lot of people who are really worried about what's going on up there," Davis said.
"Iwi are volunteering around that to support the police force. I think that's really good. I don't like to see it being characterised as thugs working with the police and people calling it nuts.
"If it was a group of Rotarians or business leaders or farmers helping out the police, they'd be lauded as upstanding citizens," Davis said.
"But because it's Māoris, they're labelled thugs, and I think that's wrong."
Davis, asked if he thought negative perceptions of the roadblocks were racist, replied: "Yeah, I do."
New National Party leader Chris Luxon disagreed.
"That's just rubbish. It's just not operational."
He said reports dozens or more police could be sent from outside the region to assist with checkpoints were concerning.
"Fundamentally, we're going to have a thin blue line that just got a lot thinner."
He said lots of Kiwis wanted to visit the North this summer, including people from Auckland, which had high vaccination rates.
"It's disrupting a lot of people. What does it mean for tourism operators within that region?" Luxon said today.
Border checks will aim to ascertain if Aucklanders and other visitors are double-vaccinated or have proof of a negative Covid-19 test no more than three days old.
The Northern Advocate reported that police, iwi and hapū in affected areas, as well as the Northland District Health Board, were collaborating on the checkpoints.
Kaipara mayor Dr Jake Smith yesterday told the Herald some parts of his community still had low vaccination rates.
He said areas with low vaccination rates included neighbourhoods near popular tourist attractions such as Kai Iwi Lakes.
In the Far North, only 69.6 per cent of eligible people in Peria had received their first dose. In Omahuta Forest-Horeke, 68.9 per cent were partially vaccinated.
In some parts of Northland, barely half of eligible adults were fully vaccinated. In Waimā Forest, only 56.8 per cent of eligible people had received two doses.
Supporters of the roadblocks have included Hone Harawira but critics included another former MP, Shane Jones.
Davis today said the Government had to accommodate health and economic concerns, and the new traffic light pandemic response struck that balance.
"I was approached by representatives of 130-something businesses [with] 3500 employees, many of them are Māori and they were scared they would lose their jobs."
Police staffing boundary checkpoints and MIQ hotels have relayed concerns about burnout, fatigue and a strain on resources elsewhere.
"Police are the same as everyone else. You can only have so much resilience and it's just running out," Police Association president Chris Cahill told the Herald last month.
The regional border will open at 11.59pm next Tuesday, December 14.