Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits calling COVID-positive security worker a liar was 'a bit blunt'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits calling a COVID-positive security worker a liar was "a bit blunt" - but it doesn't change her view that everyone has a role to play. 

Ardern made the comments on Wednesday, after officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - which oversees managed isolation (MIQ) - told the Health Select Committee about the security worker's COVID-19 test history. 

MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain revealed the worker at Auckland's Grand Millennium MIQ facility - who tested positive for COVID-19 last week - had not been previously tested since November, despite a requirement for him to be tested fortnightly. 

"What we have identified through the case investigation process... is that there are some inconsistencies in the recording of when testing occurs," Tremain said. "We don't have evidence that testing has been conducted from our systems on the frequency that we would prefer it to be."

The legal obligation for border workers to be tested regularly has been in place since September, but there was no obligation for employers across the border to use the Government's central testing register. Only about 300 out of 589 employers have been using it. 

The Government has since announced that from April 27, it will be mandatory for employers across the border to use the central testing register. 

After Tremain's revelation about the border worker's testing history, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters it's understood he lied to his employer, First Security, about his testing record. Hipkins said officials were still investigating. 

Despite the ongoing investigation, the Prime Minister jumped the gun by labelling the border worker a liar several times on Wednesday. 

"I would point out that it is obviously quite difficult when an individual, as we've been advised, has lied about being tested," Ardern said in Parliament, drawing gasps from the Opposition benches. 

"Oh look, my language yesterday was blunt. I absolutely accept that," Ardern told reporters on Auckland on Thursday, when asked if she was confident in calling the security worker a liar.  

"But I also accept that we have a role as a check and balance, as we are with any law that we create, to make sure that it's being complied with," she said. "I do hope that everyone keeps playing their part."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke to media in Auckland.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke to media in Auckland. Photo credit: Newshub

Ardern wouldn't say if she regretted her language.  

"As I said, I was probably a bit blunt. But it doesn't change my view of the roles we all have to play and I accept the Government's role.

"We do need to check we are doing our bit in ensuring people are being tested. We are a final backstop though; there is a role for an employee, a role for an employer, and then there's us."

First Security said in a statement it has met all of the mandated COVID-19 health and safety obligations and requirements.

"If a guard's status shows they are non-compliant in the border worker testing system, First Security takes all necessary steps to ensure testing is undertaken," the statement says.  

"We have current proof of up to date COVID-19 testing from all guards working at MIQ facilities and are keeping independent records to Government-provided registers and tools.

"As this individual is still recovering from the virus at the Jet Park quarantine facility we will not be commenting further on his case until he has been released and we are able to complete an investigation into his compliance with COVID-19 testing protocols."

Ardern's labelling of the security worker as a liar echoes the treatment of a KFC worker in Auckland, who upon testing positive in February was pilloried online after the Prime Minister blamed her for going to work and ignoring instructions to self-isolate. 

The KFC worker argued she'd never been told to self-isolate and last month, documents revealed the KFC worker wasn't contacted directly by health officials until after her shift.  

Ardern didn't back down.