National MP who took selfie with protesters claimed sinister motive behind Governments Covid powers

Social media comments by National MP Harete Hipango include accusations of Government cover-ups in pursuit of “sinister” objectives as more detail emerges of her selfie and Facebook posting after visiting an anti-public health protest.

Questions over the comments have prompted a fresh assurance from National leader Chris Luxon that Hipango will not make further posts that could be construed as anti-vax.

A scan of comment threads on Whanganui MP Hipango’s Facebook page shows her post with protesters from Voices for Freedom wasn’t her first brush with politically unpopular narratives.

Hipango’s awareness of the political risk appears keen, with one protester pictured in the controversial post quoting Hipango as saying “I’ll probably get roasted for this” as she took a selfie.

Just hours later, she deleted that selfie and the Facebook post to which it was posted, including her comments about the need to “treasure freedoms of movement, choice and speech”.

Shortly after, Hipango – National’s spokeswoman for Oranga Tamariki, Whānau Ora and Māori Development – was quoted in a statement issued from Luxon’s office: “I have taken down the Facebook post I made earlier today – it has been pointed out to me that it could convey an anti-vaccination message which was never my intention.”

Luxon said in the same statement: “I have talked to Harete and she has taken her post down. The views of the group she was with do not align with those of the National Party.”

Hipango was a National MP in the 2017-2020 term but lost Whanganui to Labour. She returned to Parliament in June after long-standing National MP Nick Smith resigned.

In other social media posts since returning as an MP, Hipango skirted controversy in Facebook threads responding to those who have left comments.

In those posts, she had focused on what she claimed was a lack of Government transparency and what appeared to be the suggestion it was using Covid as a means of achieving control across the population.

Such views are popular with anti-vaccination and Covid-questioning groups, and broadly found to clash with the facts.

In one comment, Hipango said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Government had “severely imposed under urgency oppressive powers and incursions on NZ and NZers under the mask of Covid”.

She said history would “in time reveal the sinister manipulation and abuses of power that have occurred during these Covid times”.

In another, she asked: “And what yet of suicide death rates and other deaths consequent of hospital lockdowns awaiting Covid hospitalisations. The Government continues to mask and hide the truths of this and much else.”

Statistics released by Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall showed fewer people had died by suspected suicide between July 2020 and June 2021. A November 2020 Ministry of Health survey found fewer people than the previous year reporting a lack of access to healthcare when needed, although studies have also shown hospital admissions and operations down.

Hipango’s other posts regularly touched on Covid-19 and the impact it had on lives and livelihoods, including two of her three children being stuck overseas during Christmas.

She had also promoted vaccination while saying she believed it was “a matter of personal choice” and was a “choice I’m promoting to … mitigate a harm to self and others exposed to a virus”. She called it a “weighting and balancing of vulnerabilities and choices”.

Voices for Freedom member Rebecca Briggs, who spoke with Hipango on Saturday, said the MP was walking to buy croissants when she saw the protesters and crossed the road to speak with the group.

According to Briggs, Hipango was prompted by the absence of protesters from a regular spot so made the effort to approach and ask after those present.

Briggs said the group was delighted the MP had visited. “No one speaks to us,” she said. “We get a lot of bullying, (told) that we don’t count. She just walked across the road and had a chat to us.”

After speaking for a while, Hipango took some photographs and continued on to find croissants. “She knew what the outcome was going to be with her (Facebook) post but she put it up anyway.”

Briggs said Hipango made the comment: “I’ll probably get roasted for this.”

She said she was impressed by Hipango’s visit and believed her motivation aligned with some of the principles of those protesting. “She believes in freedom of choice and freedom in general.”

Briggs – who regularly comments on Hipango’s Facebook posts – said she had noted comments from the MP that led her to believe that her views were out of step with accepted political commentary.

“I’ve noticed her putting little things up on her page. She’s got a lot of heart.”

The Herald raised Hipango’s comments with Luxon’s office. In a statement, he said: “Over the weekend I had a discussion with Harete Hipango underscoring my strong expectation that National MPs do not make posts that could be construed as anti-vaccination, regardless of whether that was the intent of the post.

“Harete has given me her assurance that this won’t happen going forward. I am strongly supportive of vaccination, as is the National party. I encourage everyone to take that step as the best protection, for themselves and their family, against Covid.”

The Herald attempted to reach Hipango for comment, without success. She did not return calls.

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