1 May 2024

David Seymour wants to stop 'lazily' categorising by race

3:00 pm on 1 May 2024

The MAPAS scheme, which sets aside 30 percent of medical school places for Māori and Pacific students, is an example of "racial discrimination," ACT leader David Seymour says.

In an interview on RNZ's new video-led show 30 with Guyon Espiner, Seymour said he did not support the scheme because he did not support racial discrimination.

"It's a scheme that says you qualify for the scheme if you're a certain race. So, by definition, that's exactly what it is."

Seymour said he was not pushing for the scheme to go but it would be reviewed by the government.

He wanted to know whether the increase in Māori and Pacific doctors as a result of the MAPAS scheme had actually resulted in better outcomes for patients.

"That's the theory, right? You get more Māori and Pacific doctors, they'll tend to Māori and Pacific patients, and those patients will be better off. So, in this government we're actually going to robustly ask those questions."

If the evidence showed the scheme was not doing that then "we should stop discriminating," Seymour said.

But the Dean of Auckland University's faculty of Medical and Health Science Professor Warwick Bagg said the scheme was not an example of racial discrimination.

"The reason that MAPAS exists is because the education system, the schooling system, delivers inequitable outcomes, and Māori and Pacific peoples are particularly disadvantaged. And so we have a system whereby we ensure that Māori and Pacific students can have equal access to becoming doctors, and increasing the number of Māori and Pacific doctors who are in the community.

"It's completely not a system of racial discrimination. There is emerging evidence that cultural concordance improves outcomes. And one of the challenges, and perhaps a better question to ask, is what are the outcomes for Māori and Pacific patients with non-Māori and non-Pacific doctors? And we also have evidence there that those needs are not being met. So it depends on how you want to look at this question."

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti, a MAPAS graduate, has signaled his support for a review of the scheme.

Bagg says it will be a waste of time.

"I suspect Minister Reti has far more important things to be doing than looking at a system that is delivering Māori and Pacific doctors on a continual and increasing basis to the system. It will be up to him as to what a review entails."

* 30 with Guyon Espiner comes out every week on RNZ, Youtube, TVNZ+ and wherever you get your podcasts.

Stop "lazily" categorising by race - Seymour

In the interview, Seymour was also asked about bowel screening, which is available to Māori and Pasifika patients at 50-years-old but 60 for others.

He said this was another example of "lazily looking at everyone through the lens of race" rather than other data.

"I suspect that when it comes down to the reasons people die earlier, some of it has to do with rural location, some of it has to do with choices around lifestyle - eating, smoking, alcohol, and so on. Some of it has to do with the quality of housing," he said.

"If we start looking at things like that, what we'll find is that there's some Māori people - I claim to be one of them - who don't have those problems and are doing quite well, thank you."

Seymour is preparing a Treaty Principles Bill which he says will give all New Zealanders "the same respect and dignity, including equality before the law".

In the interview on 30 With Guyon Espiner he was asked whether Māori had equality before the law when research shows they are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system, including twice the imprisonment rate after conviction for the same crime, such as low-level drug crime and assault.

"Those are things that concern me as much as anybody," he said.

But he was not convinced race was the sole cause.

"Are there other variables that lead to more Māori being prosecuted or getting heavier sentences? Is it something to do with the nature of the sentencing? I think you have to understand all that evidence, and that's what we're all about - using good data and evidence to understand the real drivers, so we don't have to lazily categorise people by race."

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