Chris Hipkins apologises for making 'unfair assumption' about Pacific people not spending in Queenstown

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has apologised for appearing to suggest people from Pacific countries can't afford to spend in Queenstown, even if the border was open to them. 

Hipkins made the comments after ACT leader David Seymour asked him in Parliament on Thursday when the Government will open the border to Pacific nations given the low rates of COVID-19. 

"With regard to the Pacific, the biggest impediment there and the biggest area of caution is the desire to ensure that New Zealand does not export COVID-19 to the Pacific, because the consequences of that - as we have seen in the past - could be devastating for those Pacific nations," Hipkins said. 

Seymour asked Hipkins if he would like to explain that to Hawke's Bay horticulturalists with fruit rotting on the ground or Queenstown tourism operators going broke for a lack of tourists.

Hipkins responded: "I think in regard to the latter part of the question, the member might like to consider how many of the people from those countries would be spending their money in Queenstown."  

Hipkins later defended the remarks, telling Newshub: "Generally speaking, people from those countries aren't spending huge amounts of money in the tourist resorts of Queenstown."

Hipkins said he didn't have any data to back up his claims. He admitted making "a bit of an assumption" about Pacific people. 

"It's just not where they're going and spending their money," he said.

"They tend to be coming to New Zealand for family reasons and work reasons and health reasons and other reasons. I think it's an assumption that's probably a fair one." 

Hipkins then turned his attention to another reporter. When he was free again, Hipkins told Newshub he had a change of heart. 

"To be honest, whilst we've been having a conversation about something else, I've reflected upon that. If anyone from the Pacific was offended by my comments then I absolutely apologise for them. I did not mean to cast aspersions on people from the Pacific Islands," he said. 

"It could be seen as an unfair assumption, I absolutely accept that. I hadn't properly thought that through and certainly if people were upset by that, I did not mean to cast aspersions."