Greens’ co-leader Marama Davidson says Labour ministers are making Covid decisions based on politics, not health advice. She sat down with political editor Jo Moir in November last year to discuss ministerial responsibility and why she disagrees with Jacinda Ardern.

Marama Davidson escaped Auckland lockdown at the end of October when she told her family she was needed in Wellington and wouldn’t be returning home until Christmas.

Her co-leader James Shaw was off to Glasgow for COP26 and with senior Wellington-based MP Julie-Anne Genter also going on maternity leave, Davidson says it became clear she had to be at Parliament.

She did 10 days self-isolation (double the then-requirement of five days set out by the Speaker) and on her re-entry to the world the first thing she did was go to the hairdresser.

That feeling of being free to go and enjoy such luxuries has left her with a sense of “survivor guilt’’.

“Even just getting out and walking around, when I arrived at Wellington airport from Auckland, I freaked out because the shops inside the airport were open, I haven’t seen that for months and it just completely threw me.’’

Davidson is back in the thick of it at Parliament and calling out Labour ministers for what she says is a huge mistake setting a date ahead of Christmas for the Auckland border to reopen.

“We’re not involved in Covid decisions. It’s not part of our cooperation agreement.”
– Marama Davidson

“I have listened to the Prime Minister and she herself has made it clear it wasn’t politically viable to keep people in Auckland restrictions for much longer. She herself has said that – but for me, we’d like to prioritise equity, not make a decision fully dependent on political viability.’

“They’ve set a line in the concrete for opening up without testing the traffic light system to see if it can stabilise cases, they’ve gone ahead and put a date there no matter what,’’ she tells Newsroom.

Davidson and Shaw both hold ministerial responsibilities but are outside of Cabinet.

“We’re not involved in Covid decisions. It’s not part of our cooperation agreement.”

The Greens don’t support the Auckland border lifting on December 15, which was announced by Ardern on Wednesday.

And Davidson says it won’t surprise Ardern and her colleagues that the Greens disagree – in fact she tells the Prime Minister that regularly.

“Because our relationship is important and I value that, I ring her, and I text her and say I’m going on the radio and going to say this.

“She also gives us a heads-up on things we think are important. That relationship continues to strengthen and it’s having that relationship that makes it more possible to diverge.’’

The Greens are calling for Auckland to move into the traffic light system, but to keep the hard border and see what happens to case numbers before allowing movement across the country.

“I push back on 95 percent vaccination for Māori being unobtainable.’’
– Marama Davidson

Davidson says a review date to see how that’s tracking could be in January, which would also give more time for regions with low vaccination rates to improve.

Importantly, she says it’s about getting Māori vaccination rates up and hitting an equitable target.

“I push back on 95 percent vaccination for Māori being unobtainable.’’

She says vaccination for the under-12s will massively help to bring Māori rates up and keeping the Auckland border in place wouldn’t be “a forever thing’’.

“It’s clear vaccination rates are increasing – it’s going slowly though.

“That’s why it’s important to give a clear message about holding the line, a few more weeks to test the traffic light system and see if it can stabilise or even bring down positive cases in Auckland, making sure we can get ICU capability to regional health providers.

“I want to see us do that work,’’ she says.

In the meantime the Greens would prioritise compassionate travel exemptions in and out of Auckland for those needing them for personal or health needs. “I’d prefer movement for those people over a person having a desire to have a holiday out of Auckland.’’

Davidson has already made the decision to not do the annual pilgrimage with her whānau to her home of Hokianga this summer, where vaccination rates are still woefully low.

“I’m booking a holiday bach on the other side of Auckland city and I’m not taking my family out of Auckland.’’

In many regions low vaccination rates, particularly for Māori, come down to access, says Davidson.

“In Hokianga where I’m from, and I’m keeping in touch with people there every single day, the rate of vaccination for 20-34-year-olds is as low as 38 percent fully vaccinated.

“That’s atrocious.’

“The local hospital there doesn’t have an ICU and I’m not sure it has ventilator capacity,’’ she says.

“Locals there will save up their trip to the dairy, which is 20 minutes over the hill … they’ll save it up and limit their movements because they might only have $2 of petrol left in the car.

“They then have to choose between that or driving in the opposite direction to the hospital to pick up medication or something … it’s a long way on shitty roads.’’

Davidson says ambivalence towards going to a clinic to get a vaccination or even tested is because of poor access.

By comparison, in her neighbourhood in Manurewa, there are multiple places to get vaccinated and tested within minutes of her home.

Aucklanders holiday in Hokianga, which will be exposed to the virus over summer now that the Government has announced the border will lift.

“If we give it more time, even a few more weeks, we could potentially save hundreds of lives,’’ Davidson says.

The Green Party is still finding a balance between being oppositional whilst also being part of the Government.

Marama Davidson says she’s managing to keep up her grassroots activist work with local communities while also holding ministerial portfolios. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Davidson pushes back on the suggestion the party’s voice hadn’t been heard during the Delta outbreak and Auckland’s ongoing lockdown.

“I can’t answer the question as to why that hasn’t always been amplified, but certainly at every step of the way we put out statements and used multiple forms of media.’’

She says ever since Labour ministers moved away from the elimination strategy, the Green Party has “put our voice out there’’.

Part of the issue could be that “we’re not in full opposition mode or branding, such as David Seymour for example’’.

But in addition to the usual mainstream and social media outlets, Davidson says the party has also made its views clear to ministers behind the scenes.

In an interview with Newsroom in April, Davidson said she felt empowered to continue her work fighting for grassroots campaigns while also navigating being a minister.

Reflecting on the last year, she insists she’s managed to do that holding the prevention of sexual violence and associate housing minister portfolios while also speaking out on a number of kaupapa as Greens’ co-leader.

Asked if it is a cop-out to say the lack of work in her portfolios is because she’s hamstrung by a Labour minister who holds the levers and the budget, Davidson says she can see how some might see it that way.

But she also points to the upcoming announcements in her housing portfolio and the support and resources she’s got for homeless young people during Covid as examples of where she’s got on and done the work.

She says having responsibilities as associate housing minister won’t stop her speaking out about a capital gains tax or rent controls with her co-leader hat on.

Marama Davidson, who is a grandmother, is famous for seeking out babies whether it be in Parliament, or when she’s visiting in the community. Photo: Tim Murphy

Davidson’s motivations in Parliament are driven by the community she lives in.

“I live in Manurewa, and just around from me is Papakura and the marae there has been picking up the slack for when the system falls down. They’ve been out delivering food parcels to people in home isolation, people in crowded unhealthy homes already, and then trying to self-isolate in a house with lots of people.

“It’s really dire,’’ she says.

“That’s what I’m keeping front of mind when thinking about how we can use our voice.’’

She looks to her kids’ friends, some of whom have been forced to leave school to get work to help pay the rent.

“I’m deeply distressed about that happening in many families in my community and neighbourhood and lockdown is making it really tough.’’

She puts so many of the Delta cases making their way into vulnerable communities in low socio-economic areas down to a lack of preparedness despite international evidence showing it was inevitable.

That’s why the Greens want Māori public health advice to be taken more seriously and elimination to be continued to be fought for.

Davidson says there are a number of strong Māori voices at the Cabinet table and she can’t answer “why that hasn’t always translated into absolute prioritisation’’ for Māori.

“At the end of the day you’ve got a Cabinet that is not all Māori, so my assumption is all of Cabinet needs to come to these decisions and clearly all of Cabinet is making different decisions.’’

Those decisions aren’t in the interest of Māori, and Davidson says it’s for her and the Green Party to continue to fight for their protection.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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