In response to the New Zealand Government’s recent coalition announcement, Hāpai Te Hauora’s CEO Jason Alexander, expresses profound concern regarding the potential detrimental effects on Māori communities. Hāpai as the leading Māori public health organisation in Aotearoa has long advocated for bridging health inequities for Māori communities by allowing them to determine their own health priorities, and providing access to basic, culturally grounded health solutions. Hāpai sees the government’s decisions today to support a Select Committee Review of Treaty principles, review the role of the Waitangi Tribunal, un-ban pseudoephedrine and repeal the Smokefree Environments and regulated Products Amendment Act as steps that could have catastrophic implications for the well-being of Māori and the social cohesion of Aotearoa in general.
1. Principles and Waitangi Tribunal Review
By proposing to review the Treaty principles and the role of the Waitangi Tribunal, we are witnessing decisions that could unravel the fabric of our nation’s commitment to biculturalism and the rights of Tangata Whenua,” states Jason Alexander, CEO of Hāpai Te Hauora. “These foundational elements of our society must be upheld and protected. Altering them could have disastrous consequences for Māori communities, potentially undermining years of progress in indigenous rights and progress towards health equity.”
2. Concerns Over the Un-banning of Pseudoephedrine
Hāpai Te Hauora takes a harm-reduction approach to illicit drugs. Drug use is a complex issue and punitive approaches have not been effective in addressing drug-related harm. Instead, we advocate for policies and strategies that prioritise the health and well-being of individuals who use drugs. Regarding the unbanning of pseudoephedrine, Alexander emphasises the need for robust regulatory measures. “While we acknowledge the medicinal value of pseudoephedrine, its unbanning without stringent controls could lead to increased health risks and exacerbate existing disparities in Māori health outcomes,” he adds.
3. Repeal of Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Act 2022.
This includes the removal of requirements for denicotinisation in tobacco and the new reduction in retail outlet constraints. Alexander says that “this is not conducive to the enhancement of whānau health. This move suggests a disregard for the voices of the communities most affected by tobacco harm – favouring economic interests”. Aotearoa is revered globally for its pioneering efforts in tobacco control, setting a precedent for evidence-based policies that improve and protect public health. The proposed rollbacks undermine our international reputation and hard-won progress in reducing smoking rates. They are counterproductive to supporting the well-being of future generations by continuing to expose them to tobacco-related harm. Alexander continues “We urge the incoming government to reconsider these regressive proposals and to uphold their pre-election commitment to improving Māori health outcomes for māori. In economic terms, the long term opportunity cost of this is Māori lives”.
Urgent Call for Responsible Decision-Making
Hāpai Te Hauora urges the new government to reconsider these decisions and to engage in meaningful dialogue with Māori communities and public health experts. Hāpai call for a decision-making process that prioritises the health, well-being, and rights of Māori.
Jason Alexander cautions: “Ko te wheako te kaiako matua- history is a great teacher. We do not have to look far back to see that pivotal government decisions which threatened basic Māori rights was the fuel that galvanised our country against the government of the day to side with the voices of those most affected” Alexander concludes.
“We stand ready to collaborate with the government to ensure better health outcomes that are in the best interests of all, especially our Māori communities.”