Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refuses to call Kelvin Davis' comments to ACT's Karen Chhour racist, says they were 'too personal'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has refused to call Kelvin Davis' comments to ACT MP Karen Chhour racist, instead calling them "too personal". 

The deputy Labour leader found himself in hot water last week after he told the fellow Māori MP to leave "her Pākehā world".

Davis, the Children's Minister, told Chhour in Parliament on Wednesday she should "cross the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi from her Pākehā world into the Māori world". He also said it was "no good looking at the world from a vanilla lens".

Later, when reminded Chhour is Māori, Davis doubled down. 

"I know. She whakapapas to Māori," he said. "But she was raised in a Pākehā world. She needs to cross the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi so she gets to understand her Māori world better."

He said in a statement on Wednesday evening he acknowledged "Karen's whakapapa and hope my comments did not cause her personal offence".

But on Thursday Davis called Chhour to apologise saying he didn't intend for it to be offensive but that he can see why she thought it was and he was sorry. Chhour said she accepted the apology. 

While the Prime Minister didn't ask Davis to apologise, he did inform her before making the call.

Speaking with AM on Monday, Ardern said apologising was the right call. But she hit back at claims there was a cultural issue in her caucus. 

AM co-host Ryan Bridge asked whether Davis' comments were the latest example of broader issues pointing to Stuart Nash previously calling Nicole McKee a "nutter" and Willie Jackson calling David Seymour a "useless Māori".

But Ardern said her caucus is well aware of her expectations and there have been very few issues in the past five years. 

"I do not believe we have…the way you have described the issue I do not agree with that," she said. "However, it doesn't mean I agree with some of the statements that have been made.

"I notice that even some of those involved in the exchange in the House last week, both parties have said they want to move on from it. Minister Davis apologised, he was right to do so and in my mind that draws a conclusion to that particular exchange."

The Prime Minister, who has previously been outspoken about the need to call out racism, also refused to label Davis' comments as racist. 

"Regardless of what label you want to put on it, it wasn't right, it was too personal obviously the minister agrees with that as well because he has apologised."

When pushed what label she would put on it if it wasn't racist Ardern said it was "too personal" and an apology was the right call. 

"My caucus knows well my position on these issues and for the most part, I mean over the course of five years, you will have seen that in a place that is known for cut and thrust and where there has been in the past some pretty ugly behaviour. On our side we work very hard to make sure we focus on the policy and the issue, there will from time to time be mistakes and in those occasions, it's all about what remedy you seek and what you do about it when those mistakes are made."

Chhour, who was raised in state care, told Newshub she accepts Davis' apology and will continue to challenge him over the well-being of New Zealand's most vulnerable children. 

"Kelvin called and offered an apology which I have accepted. No person should be judged by their identity but rather by their words and actions," she said on Thursday. 

"I will continue to ask Kelvin questions about our most vulnerable children and I hope next time he comes prepared with information instead of personal attacks."