The idea that Māori should be entitled to health services that Pākehā aren’t doesn’t sit well with National MP Simon Bridges, writes political editor Jo Moir

For someone accused of undermining the National Party leadership, there’s a lot that Simon Bridges and Judith Collins see eye-to-eye on.

While most of their common ground is in law and order, he’s also on her side over race relations.

“I totally agree with Judith. I don’t think there’s a single police officer in New Zealand, and I’ve met a few of them over the years and as Police Minister Judith met even more, who wake up in the morning and go out and decide to do something on the basis of race,’’ he told Newsroom.

His remarks on Wednesday came just hours after National’s leader Collins told RNZ’s Morning Report there was no need for a police review into unconscious bias because there’s no systemic racism in the force.

Bridges, who is National’s Māori/Crown relations and Justice spokesperson, told Newsroom there’s no place for police “soft-pedalling’’ around gangs and drugs simply because of the tragedy of the fact that Māori are over-represented.

“What I worry about in the police system under the current commissioner, is they are putting the cart before the horse.

“They want to do all the good work to ensure there’s less offending and [fewer] victims, particularly Māori offending and victims, before they’ve done the hard justice response,’’ he said.

“And there’s no way of getting around doing that for serious crime, you’re always going to need that to have a deterrence factor in New Zealand.’’

He says having a review on unconscious bias within the force will “give the Government and Commissioner excuses for soft-pedalling’’.

“We have a police force that is demographically as Māori as the population, which is more diverse than it’s ever been and more empathetic that it’s ever been.’’

Debate over racist rhetoric

Racism and whether MPs questioning race-based policy are doing so in a racist manner, was a fiery and frank debate in Parliament on Wednesday.

Te Paati Māori co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, along with Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono, walked out of Question Time after Waititi raised a series of points of orders about the inappropriate and racist rhetoric being used by Collins.

Waititi’s point of order was not supported by the Speaker and after a tense haka on the floor of the Chamber and Trevor Mallard ejecting the co-leaders, Tuiono walked behind them.

Collins’ questions to the Prime Minister over the past two weeks have centred on recommendations in the He Puapua report.

The report into Māori self-determination and sovereignty was commissioned by the Labour-New Zealand First coalition in 2019.

It’s a piece of work following the National-led government, who in conjunction with the Māori Party, signing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Collins has been highly critical of some of the recommendations already being implemented, without a national conversation about what that should look like.

She has pointed to local government Māori wards and the Māori Health Authority as examples of the government pushing ahead with a “two-tiered” system that is “separatist’’.

Collins is also on record saying “there’s nothing in being Māori that intrinsically makes someone more in need”.

Bridges, who identifies as Māori, accepts there are some health conditions, such as gout and rheumatic fever, that “disproportionately affect Māori’’.

“Some of that might be genetic, some is certainly cultural.

“I think about my old man who amazingly is still going at 87 or 88 years old even though he was in trouble a few years ago. When I think about his health issues compared to my mother, who is Pākehā, it’s that he just doesn’t speak up, nothing’s a problem and he doesn’t vocalise issues to the doctor in the way she would.

“At a certain level I think that’s cultural,’’ Bridges said.

He accepts gender differences probably also play a factor in that and then changed tack, saying it probably wasn’t a good thing to be “psycho-analysing” his Dad.

While there’s a problem with Māori health inequities, Bridges says the answer is in targeted needs-based programmes.

“I think the problem with the Māori Health Authority is it’s a system-wide approach. It’s based ultimately on one thing, and that’s race.’’

“It’s also part of a bigger picture, which we see through He Puapua.’’

The report, he says, is premised on a view of the Treaty of Waitangi and biculturalism – in other words, partnership.

“In terms of all that, so far so good, we’ve all been brought up to accept that sort of level but then that partnership becomes interpreted bluntly as 50/50 across all areas.’’

“I think that’s a view that is out of sync with where most reasonable New Zealanders would be,’’ he said.

Taking that approach and implementing it across the board, would in Bridges’ view “breed considerable resentment among most non-Māori’’.

Bridges said like most things there was a degree that was accepted, but at some point it becomes too much.

In the case of education, kohango reo and kura kaupapa are long-established schools supported by the National Party.

“But they’re not a system that’s ultimately across the board in New Zealand where every Māori goes through that door and every Pākehā goes through another door.

“Now, I accept a Labour Minister would say that’s not what will happen with the Māori Health Authority either, but in the end, I will have the privilege that you won’t have of being able to choose which is the best system.’’

Bridges says the Prime Minister is doing her best to keep an arm’s length from the recommendations in He Puapua but has the pressure of a large Māori caucus to balance.

“[Māori Development Minister] Willie Jackson is clear he supports a lot of it and says he’s taking a paper to Cabinet in the next few weeks.

“For a prominent member of the Māori caucus, it’s an active driver of where they’re at.’’

Bridges says there’s a clear tension in the Labour Party between the Māori caucus and everyone else, and if parts of He Puapua are going to be implemented to please the Māori caucus, “then it’s in New Zealand’s interests to know that and have a conversation about it’’.

He said Jackson and other senior Māori Ministers like Nanaia Mahuta see this as “their time’’.

“Let’s also not forget the Māori Party has two seats, and that’s a motivating factor for a strong Māori caucus in a strong Labour Government at the moment.’’

Bridges swings back at Jackson

Bridges is happy to take a position on where he thinks Jackson is heading with He Puapua, particularly given the comments the Minister has thrown at Bridges in recent years.

As recently as March Jackson took a swing at Bridges and ACT’s David Seymour, saying they’re a “total waste of bloody time’’ when it comes to advocating for their own Māori people.

Jackson said while he wasn’t denying they had whakapapa, “they’ll never advocate Māori positions or kaupapa’’.

This was in response to the pair both being opposed to legislation that overturned a previous right to call public referendums to overturn council decisions to have allocated Māori wards.

Bridges said he didn’t want to be “too rude” to Jackson because he’s “ultimately a likeable guy even though he says some stupid things’’.

But he believes Jackson holds a grudge against him because he’s not “his kind of Māori’’.

“I’m not a Labour Party Māori or an on-the-marae Māori.’

“I can be pretty frank about that, there’s reasons for that, I just wasn’t brought up that way,’’ he said.

“These are things we all have to reconcile in our heads but what is true is it doesn’t make me less Māori.

“We don’t think you’re only Scottish if you wear a kilt,’’ Bridges said.

“It’s a free world, my whakapapa is what it is, and I’m proud of it. Sometimes I just think Willie doesn’t like that.’’

Issues of race and fitting in are ones Bridges has spent some time thinking about, and have led to him writing and publishing his first book titled, ‘National Identity’.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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