COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has quickly walked back his words after saying Australia is "exporting its garbage" to New Zealand.
Hipkins made the remarks after Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described a planeload of deportees sent to New Zealand as "trash".
"This is Australia exporting its garbage to New Zealand. Their criminal offending has been in Australia," Hipkins told reporters on the way into Parliament on Thursday.
"To all intents and purposes, many of them have lived the vast bulk of their lives in Australia. This is a deplorable move by the Australian Government which we completely disagree with. However, having said that, they are entitled to do it."
But Hipkins quickly realised that in calling the deportees "garbage", it sounded as though he agreed with Dutton's description of the deportees as "trash".
"I don't necessarily completely agree with that sentiment, but if that is Peter Dutton's view, it is his view... probably should have chosen a better frame of words," Hipkins said.
"I am just reflecting that question that I was asked. If that is Peter Dutton's view of it, then he is exporting his rubbish to New Zealand."
Hipkins acknowledged the implications of his words.
"I didn't mean to suggest that that is what I am calling them. Those are Peter Dutton's words, not my words," he said. "Those are not my words; those are Peter Dutton's words. If he is describing them that way, then he is saying Australia is deporting its rubbish to New Zealand."
It's not the first time Hipkins has made a faux pas. Last month he apologised for appearing to suggest people from Pacific countries couldn't afford to spend-up in Queenstown, even if the border was open to them.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Dutton's comments on deportees "only serve to trash his own reputation".
Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi also strongly condemned Dutton's remarks.
"I don't accept that language. I don't accept our people being called trash because the majority of those people are Māori. Here's the problem: that is indicative of the system that our people are currently working in or living in. So you are calling them trash," he said.
"They are then brought into our prison system where they are treated like trash. Many reports and reviews have said that they are being treated like trash - brown water, dirty clothing for months and months and months, bad food.
"All those types of things is telling me that there is a trend here and they are willing to accept that or not willing to do anything about that. The Prime Minister should be calling on him to explain what he means by trash."
Waititi was shocked by Hipkins' slip-up.
"Wow. That language to me tells me that they are supportive of the current system," he said.
"I would be interested to see what any of the ministers are doing, and especially the Minister for Corrections, about changing the way that they treat our people in prisons because at this particular point in time they are being treated like garbage."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn't want to get into a tit for tat with Australia, but she promised to keep voicing her disagreement with Australia's controversial deportation policy as long as it exists.
"No one will be unaware of New Zealand's position and certainly mine that I've presented many a time, including in our last face-to-face meetings together with the Australian leadership," she told reporters.
"Everyone will be aware of our view. It's strongly held."