MP: Police Minister’s actions “shameful”

Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown is criticising the Police Minister for low vaccination rates among frontline officers. Times file photo Wayne Martin

Pakuranga MP and National Party police spokesman Simeon Brown is describing the actions of Police Minister Poto Williams as “shameful”.

His criticism relates to his questioning of Williams during a  recent meeting of Parliament’s Justice select committee.

The meeting was held online due to Covid-19 level four restrictions.

Brown told the committee that only police officers working at Government managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities had been prioritised to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

That left about 60-70 per cent of police unvaccinated at the start of the most recent level four lockdown, he said.

“The Police Association has been highly critical of this.

“Other emergency services were prioritised but not police.

“This has left a huge number of our officers very vulnerable as they have to continue to work even though we are now at level four conditions with the Delta strain.”

Brown asked Williams if she raised concerns about this with Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins when the vaccine rollout programme was being set up.

“I think most New Zealanders and most police officers find it unacceptable,” he said.

Williams said that in March when Cabinet was making decisions about prioritisation and how the rollout would happen, vaccines were “quite constrained”.

“The decision was taken at that time to ensure our most vulnerable, and they were the people working at the border, particularly at MIQ facilities, were prioritised.

“That included the police who are operating at those facilities as part of the border response.

“From that time as more supply has come on board we’ve been able to vaccinate more people.

“The people alongside FENZ (Fire and Emergency NZ) and others who were at the border, those groups were vaccinated first, and then as more supply has come on board that rollout has happened.”

Brown asked Williams several more times during the meeting if she had advocated to Hipkins for all police officers to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, but she did not answer with a yes or no.

He told the Times Williams’ “failure” to raise the issue of low vaccination rates of police officers with her Cabinet colleagues is a clear admission the safety of frontline police officers from a Covid outbreak was never a priority for her or Cabinet.

“Only a third of all frontline police officers have been fully vaccinated against Covid, meaning most officers are being put unduly at risk trying to enforce the nationwide lockdown,” Brown said.

“That the Minister and Cabinet failed to prioritise the safety of our frontline police officers is unconscionable.”

Brown says there are more than 10,000 frontline police officers across New Zealand who are needed to keep Kiwis safe during lockdown.

Low vaccination rates are not only an unjustified risk to frontline officers and their families, but also to the public, he says.

“The Police Association raised this issue with the Minister back in May, well before the outbreak of the Delta variant in New Zealand,” Brown says.

“Our police officers are right to be frustrated and angry at the way the Government has treated them.”