Te Pāti Maori co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi launched the party's Covid-19 policy this morning, including abolishing the Government's vaccine mandates and instead letting Maori decide for themselves whether to adopt mandates in their own iwi, whanau and communities.
Waititi said mandates were an important tool that whānau, hapū and iwi should be allowed to use if they believed there was a need – but the party did not support the Government-imposed mandates and believed regular testing should be used as an alternative.
The only exception was the existing mandate for frontline hospital and medical clinic workers.
The party's policy includes establishing an independent Māori Pandemic Response Group, abolishing the Government mandates, and keeping the international borders closed until the Maori vaccination rates hit 95 per cent.
It also wants Māori to determine their own rules for tangihanga, according to tikanga, rather than Government imposing restrictions.
With the vast majority of positive cases now being expected to isolate at home, it also calls for a Maori home isolation strategy.
Ngarewa Packer launched a broadside at the Government for its handling of Maori during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying a refusal to heed Māori health advice from the earliest stages amounted to "bureaucratic genocide".
Ngarewa-Packer, who has been working as a vaccinator in the Taranaki region, said the Government had failed to heed advice that a targeted Maori response and vaccination plan would be needed from the start of the pandemic.
That included the refusal to prioritise Māori for vaccination, despite Māori being considered a vulnerable population.
She said the Government had failed Māori - and as a result, Māori vaccination rates were well below those of the general population, hesitancy was rife, and Maori now made up the majority of new cases in the current outbreak.
The Government vaccine mandates now apply to workers in the border force, as well as the bulk of education and health workers, and prison officers. Under the new traffic light system, businesses will also be allowed to adopt mandates on staff, and refuse entry to unvaccinated people.
Ngarewa-Packer said the mandates were a "knee-jerk reaction" to a failing system that had not been well thought out, and it was a narrow-minded approach that vilified unvaccinated people.
"This has caused vaccination hesitancy and the division we see in this country."
Waititi said his party was opposed to the Government's mandates because they amounted to an attack on Māori rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and it was yet another Government measure that would marginalise and criminalise Maori.
It would result in people being excluded from fully participating in society, which was critical for Māori health.
The party's policy would still require the mandate for staff in hospitals and medical clinics, but other health-related workers would only be required to disclose their vaccination status to patients, and provide a negative test result.
Whānau, hapū and iwi should have the right to set their own mandates, as should businesses, schools and other organisations.
The party wanted to shift all Māori targeted DHB vaccination funding to Maori providers, and for all vaccination data to be shared with those providers.
The vaccination data issue is currently the subject of court action between the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency and the Ministry of Health, after director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield refused to hand over information on the grounds of privacy.
The policy for a Māori home isolation strategy would include kits with rapid antigen tests, and basic medical supplies. It also wanted subsidised rapid antigen tests widely available for sale.