Politics | David Seymour

David Seymour on Waitangi Tribunal, school lunches and euthanasia

Between a Māori Battalion veteran calling for a government apology, the Waitangi Tribunal summonsing an ACT minister, the swirling funding discussions around ‘Ka ora, Ka ako’ school lunches, and the upcoming review of the End of Life Choice Act, it’s certainly a busy time to be David Seymour.

The ACT party leader and regulation minister sat down with Te Ao Māori News reporter Tini Molyneux for a wide-ranging discussion about these four pressing issues.

Māori Battalion apology

Bom Gillies has only wanted an apology from the government for what happened with the Māori Battalion. Are there any apologies coming from you?

“Well it wouldn’t be my job to give that apology. We have a Minister of Veterans Affairs, and a Minister of Defense, as well as a Minister of Māori Affairs. I think all of them should have a kōrero about Bom.

“If I were to make an apology just because he asked me right now, that’s not the kind of sincerity.

“I think it’s really important when the government makes an apology, it’s not like the Dawn Raid apology where they did the big fanfare but forgot to actually stop them, you actually have to have real action and reflection to make that apology sincere.”

What’s your personal take?

“I think the way that New Zealand was post-war was discriminatory, there were a lot of things that happened back then that we shouldn’t be proud of.

“The question now is how do we go forward together acknowledging New Zealand’s a nation of many strains, people of all sorts of backgrounds have all sorts of advantages and disadvantages and sometimes they line up with race but often they don’t.

“We need to work out how we give every child born in this country the same equal opportunity. We’re not doing that now but I think the injection of race into the way we have these conversations has actually made it so much harder for people to problem solve and work out how we get that equal genuine opportunity for every kid.”

Waitangi Tribunal v Minister Chhour

What are your thoughts and feelings about the High Court case between Waitangi Tribunal and Minister Chhour?

“The courts are making a decision and we have to let that be their particular space but I’m very confident in the government’s initiative to remove section 7AA [of the Oranga Tamariki Act].

“Section 7AA effectively said that a vulnerable child’s race was more important than their welfare, and the practical implementation was reverse uplifts where a kid got taken out of a safe environment to a more dangerous environment on the basis of race, It’s really uncomfortable having to say that.

“I wish that wasn’t New Zealand we’re in, but that’s what the previous government did and we’re reversing it.

“I’m proud to be part of this government and very proud to be backing Karen Chhour who is an ACT Minister who herself as a victim of bad treatment of CYFs, as it was known back then, has made a remarkable journey to now be the Minister of Children with the power to make it better for the next generation of vulnerable kids.”

What are your thoughts on the Waitangi Tribunal at this point in time? Do you have any respect for what the Waitangi Tribunal does and what it’s trying to do?

“The Waitangi Tribunal has been essential and has played a very important role in settling past grievances to the point that nearly every Iwi in the country, except for one notable one we won’t name from up north, has managed to go through a settlement process

“I think that is a real testament to New Zealand, we investigated, we acknowledged, and we redressed many of the wrongs of our past

“However with that process nearly complete I think it raises a question of what do they need to do next and that’s something this government is going to be having an honest hard look at.

“What is their future in a post-settlement environment?”

So you would be in favour of doing away with the Waitangi Tribunal?

“Let’s see what comes out of this question. Is there some sort of role of upholding the treaty on an ongoing basis and does that require a separate tribunal to do so?

“I suspect that what we really need to do now to really honour the treaty is get these issues around housing, around welfare, around education, corrections, you know, jobs.

“Those are the things that modern Māori in 2024 will be saying, ‘this is what we need’ and I’m not clear on how the Waitangi Tribunal’s contributing to that right now.”

End of Life Choice Acts review

End of Life Choice Act is coming up for review later this year, what changes would you like to see?

“The review will happen, and that’s a government thing, but as the person who is responsible for the law, I always thought it was wrong that I had to put the six month time limit in so that we could get enough numbers to pass it.

“Now that means someone who has MMD or Huntington’s or some sort of long-term degenerative disease can face years of suffering but they’re not going to die so they won’t get [the] End of Life Choice until the very very end.

“I think someone who will die, maybe not in six months but soon enough and suffers badly for a longer time, they should be able to access it too.”

How do you get around that? Because I know there is opposition.

“Only parliament can change the law and that means a majority of MPs would have to vote for a law change.

“At the moment there is no law before parliament but I think when this review happens, that might attract some interest, that an MP might decide to put up a law and then all the other MPs would have to decide whether to vote for it.”

There’s also the gag clause. Will that change?

“Well again, whether or not that changes depends on a bill going before parliament and right now no one’s proposing it.

“But the idea that a doctor can talk about all the options someone suffering at the end of their life has, included assisted dying, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do.

“I understand why people are worried about doctors suggesting it but I think now we’ve got to a more mature stage.

“We realise this is not about vulnerable people being railroaded, it’s about empowered people making choices and I don’t think it would be a bad thing if doctors were allowed to raise the issue so that they can make a fully informed decision.”

How do you think it’s going?

“I’ve had people tell me, people whose family were against it, even one MP who voted against it, say ‘look someone I know ended up using it, and it’s a very positive thing.’

“We wish no one was suffering, we wish no one was sick, but if you are, having that choice and control, I think that’s the only human thing to do, let them decide, not make them suffer so they can satisfy someone else’s morality.”

School Lunches

A lot of students are on Ka ora Ka ako school lunches. Are you happy with the changes?

“Yeah, we have to change it. The previous Labour government made lots of noise, then they produced a budget that put no money aside for Ka ora Ka ako for 2025 onwards.

“Under Labour’s budget, it would have stopped at the end of this year, we’re now saving it. That means we’ve got to find up to 330 million dollars to keep it going.

“What we are going to do is cut expenditure elsewhere, put money into the school lunch programme, and then do it better, smarter and cheaper, so kids that really need the nutrition still get it, but we also start working on the government’s massive financial problem that grew up under Labour.”

So there’s that saying ‘I go to school to eat my lunch’ and a lot of cases that’s true for a lot of people, the only meal they get is going to school. It also helps keep them engage in class. Are you happy with cutting that out?

“Well actually that’s not what we’re doing. The programme will continue but what we will see is something that is fairer more affordable for the taxpayer and means the kids that really need the nutrition at school get it.

“But also the government has to start managing its budget like a household or a business.

“We can’t just keep borrowing and spending, that’s had a massive impact on people and made life much harder than it needs to be because it’s buggered up the rest of the economy.”

You’re the associate education minister. Truancy is high, some people might not go to school because are embarrassed they don’t have anything to eat. So wouldn’t truancy become a bigger problem?

“The previous government did several studies on ‘does the free school lunch program get more kids to school?’ All of them execpt one showed no evidence and the one that did, showed a tiny improvement in kids going to school because of the school lunch programme.

“So I’m sure there are people that will tell you that but we’ve got to look at the hard numbers that the previous government themselves commissioned and the lunch programme is not really connected with attendance.

“There’s a whole lot of other reasons that kids aren’t attending and we’re tackling all that one by one.”