Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says returning New Zealanders who refuse to go into managed isolation "can go off to prison as far as I'm concerned".
Peters' comments come amid growing concern about the number of Kiwis returning home and bringing COVID-19 back. Two more cases were confirmed at the border on Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases in New Zealand to 10.
Peters told Magic Talk on Tuesday the ability for Kiwis to return home is a "fundamental principle", highlighting how in March he urged New Zealanders travelling overseas to consider returning home as COVID-19 spread across the globe.
But he said returnees must also "conform with the laws and the protocols that five million New Zealanders have been complying with to get us through this COVID attack which is confronting every country in the world".
The NZ First leader rejected the assertion that Kiwis should have the choice to go into managed isolation. He said returnees can be forced into confinement for two weeks upon arrival despite the fact that they have not broken the law.
"Yes, they can be enforced to do that. If they don't do that, then they can go off to prison as far as I'm concerned."
Peters also said he supports the prospect of making returnees pay for managed isolation rather than the Government footing the bill, because Kiwis overseas have had plenty of time to come home.
"Here we are 23 June and they are starting to turn up at home and my real point is, why didn't you come much sooner?"
But many Kiwis have been unable to return home until recently with so few flights available.
The minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, says nearly $300 million has been budgeted to keep the managed isolation system running for the rest of the year, and that about $80 million has been spent so far.
She says charging for managed isolation is something the Government is considering but that it's complicated and a balance needs to be struck.
"What we have to make sure is we have got a good legal basis to do this balanced against people's rights to return to their country," she told The AM Show. "That is just a simple fact of law."
Peters seems to think it's simpler than that.
"They've got a right to come home but they've got a duty to be at the frontline of defending ourselves against COVID and in this context they are most likely to be the people who are carrying it because they're coming from COVID-inflicted countries," he said.
"That's the least we could expect from them."
Peters said Kiwis hoping to return home should accept the rules and be prepared to pay for the managed isolation, because taxpayers are unfairly footing the bill.
"Before you come, sign up to the plan, sign up to the protocols, rather than imperil all of us and set this country back an enormous way and cause so much damage to the economy and to employment and jobs," he said.
"What's this about? It's about the fundamental right of the massive majority of those obeying the law, not those who think they've got a fundamental right to ignore it."
Peters later reiterated his stance, telling reporters before heading into Parliament, "If we go to the trouble of bringing them home... then surely they should make a contribution."
More than 20,000 people have entered facilities upon returning to New Zealand so far, with their stay costing around $4000 each.
In Queensland, international travellers entering the state will have to pay $200 a day towards their managed isolation facility costs from July.
Peters suggested New Zealand follow suit.
"Queensland in Australia is doing it and we will need to do it too, otherwise the cost is on everybody."