Comment: Just when the National Party had stopped hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons, leader Judith Collins found a metaphorical machete to bushwhack her way back in, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Seven years. That’s the gap between Māori and non-Māori life expectancy at birth due to systemic health inequalities in New Zealand.
Māori are also more than twice as likely than non-Māori not to have collected a prescription due to cost and Māori adults are almost twice as likely to be obese as non-Māori.
These aren’t a “series of interesting facts”, they are scientific facts about the discrepancies that occur in a first-world country within a health system that is meant to be easily accessible.
There are, of course, contributors to these health outcomes – warm and dry housing, access to food and clean drinking water, sufficient clothing and much more.
When National leader Judith Collins told RNZ on Wednesday “there is nothing in being Māori that intrinsically makes anyone more in need in the health system” she ignored decades of statistics in order to make a political point.
Yes, not every person born Māori in New Zealand will have poor health, but scientific evidence shows Māori are at far greater risk from birth onwards than non-Māori.
The political point Collins is desperately trying to make is that the health system should be based on need not race – a reference to the Government’s announcement last week that it would establish a Māori Health Authority.
“This is actually an issue of poverty and opportunity. It is not an issue, intrinsically based on or linked to ethnicity and to say it is ignores the fact that there are many New Zealanders of many different ethnicities who struggle,’’ Collins told RNZ.
“We have to understand that we either have a country built on a separate system for Māori versus every other New Zealander, or we have a system that is based on equality and on bringing opportunity through to every New Zealander, irrespective of race.”
The gaping hole in Collins’ point is that in New Zealand need and race are intrinsically linked.
The irony in Collins’ comments is that she was making them in the same interview where she was talking about a recommendation that the party embed Te Tiriti and a Te Ao Māori view into its constitution.
It also comes on the back of Collins announcing in February that National would once again run in the Māori seats at the 2023 election.
Not to mention the fact Whanau Ora – a health commissioning agency set up by Māori for Māori – was introduced under the former National government.
Collins has lost the sense of what point she’s trying to make.
The Māori seats announcement was cynical at the time, given nobody in the party was prepared to say they’d even run candidates in the electorates.
This week’s rhetoric only further enhances the point that while Collins is furiously trying to find new ways to gather votes, she’s also trying to balance the wishes and needs of a support base that she believes has no desire to see Māori lifted out of every single negative statistic.
It may not be that the Māori Health Authority is the answer and nowhere near enough detail has been provided yet on how it will work.
But Collins’ argument goes well beyond the Government’s health reforms. It climbs back into the Iwi/Kiwi days of former leader Don Brash, and once again creating a separatist debate.
Collins told RNZ the majority of New Zealanders “utterly believe in someone’s ability to get ahead by hard work and determination and actually to make the most of the talents we each have’’.
She’s not wrong, but then that’s assuming every New Zealander is born with the same opportunity to get ahead.
It’s a well-established fact that some Māori, for myriad reasons, are not born with the same opportunities.
Colonialism and institutional racism in the current system play a pretty sizeable role in that and as long as people in positions of power continue to ignore it, there’s little hope for equality.