One of New Zealand’s most prominent Pacific health leaders says he has “no confidence” in the Government after stepping down from almost every advisory role.
Long-standing champion for health Sir Collin Tukuitonga told RNZ Pacific he has resigned as the Chairman of Te Whatu Ora Pacific Senate, a week after the new Government officially took over.
“I really don’t want to work for this Government. I have no confidence. They are not going to treat Pacific people well and I want to be free to speak up and speak out.”
Tukuitonga had also stepped down from several other government advisory groups.
“I was appalled at the decision to repeal the smokefree legislation because it is Māori and Pacific people who are going to pay the price. That really annoyed me no end.”
Tukuitonga said he was unhappy with how the Government was scrapping legislation “for tax cuts”, which he believed “was immoral”.
Finance Minister Nicola Willis has previously said scrapping smokefree laws would help fund tax cuts.
However, Tukuitonga said disestablishing the Māori Health Authority/Te Aka Whai Ora was “premature and ill-advised,” and that “Māori deserve better”.
“The Government needs to do more with and for Māori. They have some of the worst health outcomes in the country as do our [Pacific] people.”
The Niuean-born New Zealand doctor, public health academic, public policy expert and advocate for reducing health inequalities of Māori and Pasifika people has been a leading force informing Governments on indigenous and Pacific health needs.
He was instrumental in providing the previous Government expertise during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw Pacific people have the highest vaccination rates out of any other group.
Minister for Health and Pacific Peoples, Dr Shane Reti praised Tukuitonga for being “one of New Zealand’s most prominent Pacific health leaders, as well as in the region and globally”.
“Collin has always been one to use the power of his voice to advocate for his people. I wish him very well for the future.”
The National Pacific Health Senate was established in March last year under the Labour-led Government aimed at “providing objective, strategic advice to Te Whatu Ora and support it to deliver more equitable health outcomes for Pacific peoples”.
Tongan community leader Pakilau Manaselua was also “appalled” by the Government’s recent decisions.
Although he believed Reti deserved a fair go at the role, so far, he was “saddened” the Government was “sending all the wrong signals”.
Tukuitonga said Te Whatu Ora Pacific Senate remained unchanged and would not be disestablished, unlike the Māori Health Authority/Te Aka Whai Ora.
Chief executive Fepulea’i Margie Apa previously said the Pacific Senate would “play an important role for Pacific people, as Te Whatu Ora builds a new health system with a focus on achieving equity”.
“The group will provide clinical advice, public health advice and technical advice that is for Pacific, by Pacific”.
Twelve members are part of the National Pacific Health Senate, including Tunumafono Fa’amoetauloa Avaula Fa’amoe (MNZM), Samoan paediatrician and researcher Dr Teuila Mary Percival (QSO).
Tukuitonga said he had only spoken with one member about stepping down as Chair.
His resignation also comes at a time when the National, Act and New Zealand First Coalition Government is reviewing race-based policies, including the potential to scrap programmes offering Māori and Pacific easier pathways to enter medical school.
“I don’t know what the Government has in mind, but I hope common sense prevails,” Tukuitonga said.
The lack of Pacific representation within this new Government was a concern, he said. “From 11 MPs in Cabinet to no one at all … people say you can do good things without representation. I don’t think so. Winnie Laban says if you are not at the table, your dinner, said Tukuitonga.