Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor stands by telling tourism industry to not be so 'cocky'

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor stands by telling the tourism industry to not be so "cocky" - but he's apologised to the Tourism Minister for putting pressure on him. 

O'Connor made the comments late last week at Central Districts Field Day. His West Coast-Tasman electorate includes Franz Josef and Fox Glacier - some of the hardest hit, tourism-reliant communities in New Zealand. 

West Coast-based National MP Maureen Pugh described O'Connor's remarks as "simply not good enough", while Glacier Country Tourism Group co-chairperson Rob Jewell said his comments were "quite shocking"

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash have both said they don't agree with O'Connor's remarks. 

"I wouldn't express it in that way," Ardern said on Monday. "I think the industry, by and large, accepts that we've done what we can where we've been able to, but I know it hasn't always been enough from their perspective."

Nash said on Tuesday O'Connor had apologised to him, and agreed when asked if the Agriculture Minister's remarks were unfair to the tourism industry.

"I do believe, yes. It's not what I would have said," Nash said. "He's apologised to me."

O'Connor confirmed he had apologised to Nash - but he hasn't apologised to the tourism industry. 

"I absolutely did apologise, I said 'sorry I didn't want to put more pressure on you', because I know he's been doing good work with the tourism industry, trying to help them through this," O'Connor said. 

"We want to help them build back better, but they have to be aware that these things are always potential risks."

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

O'Connor said while it may not have been the "perfect word" to use, the tourism industry should learn from COVID-19 the way the agriculture industry has adapted to mycoplasma bovis. 

"Just as the livestock agriculture sector learned from M Bovis - that they had to be ready with better biosecurity protocol - I think the tourism industry also has to be ready as we had signalled through SARS, through Ebola that these pandemics are likely to occur and so if you're running a tourism business, you need to have some back-up."

O'Connor passed off his use of the word "cocky" as a "term of endearment" used in the agriculture sector. 

"I've apologised to Stuart Nash for putting more pressure on him, but the point is I was making it clear that any industry - be it agriculture, tourism, manufacturing - we have to be aware of the dangers and potential risks ahead of us," he said. 

"It wasn't to criticise them per se. It was to say that to think you can be ahead of the game and not face up to the risks and manage those, is always perhaps a risk for the industry."

O'Connor, when asked if he would apologise to the tourism industry, said he would "work through that". 

Labour MP Deborah Russell came under similar scrutiny last year for suggesting small businesses hadn't prepared financial reserves to cope with a setback like COVID-19.  

It's not the first time O'Connor has come under fire for his remarks. He ruffled feathers in Australia earlier this year as Trade Minister, after urging them to practice "more diplomacy" with China

The remarks riled politicians such as Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who said the advice was not "particularly insightful or helpful".