Claims and counter-claims about racism have been triggered by two lists in the past week.
Elective surgery was at issue with one list. Election prospects were at issue with the other.
Let’s sharpen our scalpels and start with the surgery.
Changes are being made in the Wellington region to a system whereby people placed on a surgical waiting list are treated according to clinical urgency, firstly, and then days waiting on that list.
Clinical urgency is determined using national scoring tools (www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/data-references/code-tables/national-booking-reporting-system-code-tables). In general the higher the score, the greater the urgency for treatment.
No longer, according to this press statement:
“Capital & Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs are prioritising Maori and Pacific in our surgical scheduling processes. The patients’ ethnicity is taken into account along with their level of clinical urgency and the number of days they have been on the waiting list within a given clinical priority band.
This is not just a Wellington region issue:
“Our work to prioritise Maori and Pacific patients for planned surgery, within a given clinical priority band, aligns with the national direction towards improved equity in health.”
But the rationale needs closer examination than news media have given it:
“The aim of this work is to improve access to health care for Maori and Pacific people.”
But whoa there. Are the health boards talking about getting more Maori and Pasifika on to the list? Or are they talking about giving priority to them – by bringing race into the reckoning – once they are on the list?
When someone is pushed up on a list, by the say, someone must be displaced and the boards’ statement has an ominous ring to it:
“It is unlikely that any other patients will be significantly affected as a result of this work.”
“Unlikely” and “significantly” are the worry words here.
True, the boards intend cranking up the number of surgical procedures.
“ We anticipate that our plans to increase planned surgery overall will offset our policy, meaning any impact on other patients would be minimal.
But “minimal” is another worry word and the funding for the extra procedures comes from where?
Point of Order went to check out the prioritisation scoring system code table
This list is currently being revised.
For any queries regarding the Prioritisation scoring system codes, please contact Elective.Prioritisation@health.govt.nz.
Watch this space.
The other list at issue ranked the National Party’s team in Parliament after a reshuffle following the change of leadership.
The country’s Nat-shamers promptly noted that three out of National’s top four-ranked MPs are women but there are no Māori MPs on the front bench – nor of any other ethnicity.
Māori Party founder Dame Tariana Turia told RNZ she was “gobsmacked” by National’s new line-up given her experience working closely with the party in government.
“Here is a political party that I thought valued the Māori voice… It’s very disappointing to now see that in 2020 there is no Māori voice on the front bench.”
RNZ did not inquire about the numbers of non-Maori in key positions in the Maori Party.
Todd Muller was slow on the draw, when it came to explaining that merit was the big factor in deciding who sat where on his team. But eventually he told Morning Report he went with who he believes are his best MPs.
“I looked at it through the lens of my shadow Cabinet and I looked at it through the lens of the talent that I have at my disposal which is quite extraordinary in terms of my 55 MPs and the third thing I did, which is different to what has happened in the past, is rather than loading up the shadow Cabinet with all the portfolios, I spread the critical and substantive portfolios across the whole team, including Dan Bidois for example who has Workplace Relations and Safety.
“When I put it (party list) forward I didn’t rank it and I also said this isn’t our final list ranking.”
Some journalists hastened to niggle at the weakness they had spotted.
One tactic was to round up former National Maori MPs.
Dame Georgina te Heuheu said she had long fought to promote Māori in all forums including Parliament.
“My whole life has been about ensuring Māori representation at all levels,” she said.
“But I leave it to those who are in Parliament. I leave it to Todd … only they know the things that are important for what they want to do – which is pull the National Party vote back.”
Tau Henare said:
“This is New Zealand for goodness sake, not South Africa in the 1970s, this is New Zealand, it’s 2020… If it had been me, I would’ve put a couple of Māori on the front bench and you know what, there’s a missing good news story in all of this – that Shane Reti is now the Treaty Negotiations spokesperson – that’s the first time that they’ve (National) have had a Māori, anybody, has had a Māori in that position. That’s strange but it’s a good news story.”
In response to a leading question – do you think it’s racist? – Henare said:
“It’s unconscious racism, I don’t think it’s bias, that’s just a cop-out word, I think deep down they just don’t care about the make up of New Zealand. If you look at New Zealand First, they are over-populated with Māori, but they don’t go out of their way to do it… The Labour Party, they do go out of their way to make sure, but the two Māori on their front bench are Māori seat holders… If you are running a political party then your party has to have a microcosm of what New Zealand is and the front bench (National) is not a microcosm of New Zealand.”
Tell that to the Maori Party.
Henare said he wouldn’t call Muller racist but New Zealanders could make their own mind up on that by his actions.
A tactic employed by RNZ’s Lisa Owen was to phone some of National’s Maori MPs, cordially introduce herself as something akin to their very best friend, then pounce by asking them what they thought about so many white colleagues being given higher places in the party pecking order.
Dan Bidois told her National’s emphasis was on ability and merit-based promotion, inevitably to be asked if this meant there was a whole bunch of more capable pakeha people than him in the National Party.
When Bidois said he hoped to make it to the front bench one day, but for now he reckoned Muller had the right balance, Owen asked if Shane Reti could he be a minister of health.
He could be anything he wants, Bidois replied (who was on a hiding to nothing).
“Well okay, so why isn’t he on the front bench?” she countered.
When he set out his thoughts on Reti’s strengths, she retorted:
“So he’s so great and capable that he’s at number 17.”
Bidois persisted with his contention that ranks were not the issue, that National selected on merit, and so on.
This time she countered:
“So just to be clear on this, you think that your position in the shadow cabinet is correct along with all the others simply because none of the Maori MPs in National have the ability to be in the top 10 right now?”
No, he didn’t think that – or say it. He happens to think more senior MPs who have held senior ministerial portfolios in previous governments should be given a heavier weight than himself and he is absolutely happy with his rank and with the portfolio he has been given, the workplace relations portfolio.
Freshly demoted Paula Bennett, showing no sign of resentment, said no one in the National team didn’t care about the whole country – including Maori – and how they can get ahead.
Judge her team on what it does, not on the ethnicity of some of those on the front bench, she urged.
Checkpoint couldn’t reach Dr Shane Reti to be asked how much he might be smarting at his ranking, but he popped up in a Stuff report on the hospital waiting lists.
Dr Bryan Betty, medical director for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, told Stuff someone who missed an outpatient appointment at the hospital because of issues with transport had to then wait a long time for another appointment, he said.
“All these things make it difficult to access care and all relate to poverty,” he said.
In other words, poor people need a helping hand. But the policy adopted by the health boards is giving priority to patients who meet ethnicity criteria, not poverty criteria.
Reti said addressing inequity should be “judged by clinical urgency rather than ethnic background”.
ACT Leader David Seymour more bluntly said district health boards were showing their priorities amidst a health crisis “are on another planet, and risk fuelling an election campaign of racial bickering.”
“DHBs shouldn’t be making medical decisions on political grounds. Priority should be based on clinical need and the time a patient has waited, not their race.
“First, it is impractical. How do you define Māori and Pasifika? What weight do DHBs place on race? Are they going to make sure every Māori and Pasifika person is treated before anyone else?
“Doctors work on the human body. Any doctor can tell you that people of different ethnic backgrounds have far more in common than anything dividing them. We should treat all humans equally because it is our common humanity that unites us. Racial profiling can only divide.
“More importantly, it creates serious resentment among other New Zealanders. It’s the last thing we need at a time like this.
We should pull back from race-based decision-making, Seymour urged.
All New Zealanders should have equal rights under the law and we have more in common than that which divides us.
But it is fast becoming the accepted wisdom (absorbed and spread by an unquestioning news media) that some are entitled to claim and be granted more equal rights than others.