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NZ government set to "disestablish" Māori Health Authority

Dechlan Brennan -

The Aotearoa coalition government has moved one step closer to fulfilling their electoral promise of disestablishing Te Aka Whai Ora (Māori Health Authority) on Tuesday, but debates will continue into Wednesday.

The Pae Ora (Disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority) Amendment Bill was introduced with accompanying outrage from the opposition, who have said it goes against the "advice of experts".

On Tuesday, the first two readings of the bill passed with support of the three coalition partners in government: the National Party, ACT Party and New Zealand First. The third reading, with further debate, which took the first two readings up until 10pm, is expected in the morning.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti said the decision would usher in a "new vision for Māori health" and was a "narrow bill" aimed primarily to disestablish the Te Aka Whai Ora.

"We have said we will bring healthcare for all New Zealanders closer to the home and closer to the community," Dr Reti said.

"This will serve Māori and non-Māori well.

"The narrow focus on disestablishment doesn't mean an end to our focus on Māori health for those who need it. We know the solutions for Māori communities come from Māori communities — not a centralised Wellington hub."

Dr Reti said staff and functions at Te Aka Whai Ora "will transfer mostly to Health New Zealand, with a few to the Ministry of Health".

In response, the Labour opposition were critical of the move, arguing the rushed legislation was "evasive and cowardly" and disregarded the "steps put in place by generations to ensure Governments are held to account for Māori health".

Labour's Associate Health (Māori Health) spokesperson Peeni Henare said on Tuesday: "We know that Māori have a shorter life expectancy than others in New Zealand, and they historically have worse access to the social and medical services that might change this."

"By taking away the very initiative designed to improve Māori health so they can live as long as the rest of the population, the Government is showing New Zealand that it wants to take our people backwards," Mr Henare said.

The Green Party were equally vociferous in their outrage, arguing the decision was the "latest trashing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi)" by the coalition.

The party spokesperson for Māori Health Hūhana Lyndon said the disbanding of Te Aka Whai Ora would only result in "devastating and lasting impacts" on the health of tangata whenua.

"Scrapping Te Aka Whai Ora represents a step back to a status quo that has failed generation upon generation of Māori," Ms Lyndon said.

"The institutional neglect of the past has resulted in Māori dying at four times the rate of non-Māori from preventable disease and illness.

"Te Aka Whai Ora was an opportunity to end the shameful legacy of neglect Māori have endured in healthcare."

The coalition government has been operating on a populist platform since being elected last year, with all three parties expressing a distaste for the notion of "woke" or any significant move to correct the historical - or ongoing - injustices colonialism.

ACT party leader David Seymour has been accused of "race baiting" by one Labour MP and is pushing for a referendum on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, despite both Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and senior NZ First Minister Shane Jones shutting down the proposal.

ACT's Todd Stephenson suggested the Te Aka Whai Ora is a separate health service designed to divide.

He noted the Pae Ora Amendment Bill was being brought put forward because "dividing New Zealanders into two ethnic groups to receive public services does not help us deliver better public services".

Mr Stephenson said the bill didn't take away Māori consultation but would help to "get rid of this bureaucracy and actually get down to delivery".

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer rejected the ACT party's position.

"Well, excuse us for having to have a separate need to be able to have our wellbeing addressed, because we are dying earlier than everyone else," she told parliament on Tuesday.

"Let's just go there and talk about the facts, because the reality is that we have learnt from this government that Māori are expendable.

"And the politicking that is going on before the very nation of Aotearoa—and the world—is that you have determined that you know better what Māori want."

The third reading of the bill will take place in Wellington at 9am Wednesday, local time.

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