18 May 2024

Government faces further legal action over Māori Health Authority axing

3:51 pm on 18 May 2024
Wellington High Court

(file image) Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government is facing further legal action from a group of Māori health providers over the way the Māori Health Authority was disestablished.

Alongside seeking a judicial review and claims of breaches against the Bill of Rights, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration of inconsistency against Te Tiriti o Waitangi, something the courts have never done before.

It is the second High Court action into the government's policies affecting Māori. Earlier this year, Waikato-Tainui filed a case over what it said were breaches of the government's promise under the iwi's Treaty settlement, to protect and preserve te reo.

There have also been six applications to the Waitangi Tribunal seeking an urgent inquiry.

The plaintiffs are Te Puna Ora o Mataatua, Te Kōhao Health, Ngāti Hine Health Trust, and Papakura Marae, with support from Pou Tangata, National Iwi Chairs Forum.

Health Minister Shane Reti has maintained scrapping the authority and changing to a different path would improve health outcomes for Māori. Speaking at the bill's passage last month, he acknowledged the "organisational expertise" of the staff at Te Aka Whai Ora, most of whom will be transferred to Health New Zealand or the Ministry of Health.

"I say to Māori Health Authority staff to please join me, guide me, and help us together to row a different waka towards better health outcomes. This bill enables that."

Te Puna Ora o Mataatua chief executive Dr Chris Tooley said Te Aka Whai Ora was the most transformative enabler for addressing systematic health inequity experienced by Māori.

Te Aka Whai Ora was disestablished without a taskforce, working group or inquiry, without any policy to consult on, and without the release of an alternative blueprint to consider, Tooley said.

"Te Aka Whai Ora was a living expression of partnership and rangatiratanga and has been forged out of 40 years of struggle. It has been disestablished under a government-wide campaign of structural disempowerment of Māori.

"Te Tiriti is the foundation of our nation. For hundreds of years, tikanga has been the first law of this land. It remains part of our law in Aotearoa New Zealand to this day. Our Supreme Court has ruled accordingly."

Across the Human Rights framework, the Bill of Rights or even free trade agreements, there were fundamental obligations which did not change with political shifts and electoral cycles, he said.

Te Tiriti was no different, he said. Key obligations under Te Tiriti, such as partnership, are permanent and cannot be contracted out.

"As Treaty partners, Māori have rights to make decisions over their own affairs. This includes the design and implementation of our own healthcare models."

In March, Reti announced he was extending existing Hauora Māori and Budget 2022 contracts for a further year, which he says will provide continuity and certainty.

The move means contracts set up under the Māori Health Authority, and health contracts from Budget 2022 that are still continuing, have their funding confirmed for another year, through until July 2025.

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