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Why it took Hipkins three months to publicly apologise to Bellis over MIQ stoush

Newshub logo Newshub 22/06/2022 Amelia Wade
Getting to this point took the threat of a defamation suit. © Video - Newshub; Image- Getty Images. Getting to this point took the threat of a defamation suit.

The former COVID-19 Response Minister has been forced to publicly apologise to New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis.

Chris Hipkins admitted he released personal information without her consent, making incorrect statements and says he regrets the "distress" caused.

But it took the minister three months from admitting that behind the scenes to saying it in public.

In Afghanistan and pregnant, Bellis could not get a spot in managed isolation to come home. She went public, saying in January that she couldn't believe that we are having "to fight like we are". 

Why it took Hipkins three months to publicly apologise to Bellis over MIQ stoush
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The pressure piled on the then-COVID-19 Response Minister - and he attacked back. But he got it wrong. Really wrong.

"It accept responsibility for that though, so that's my responsibility and hence I have apologised to her for that," Hipkins said on Wednesday.

The original foreign affairs advice about Bellis' case - obtained by Newshub - does not say Bellis twice ignored consular assistance, which is what Hipkins' incorrectly claimed. But it does say details about her case were 'not for public comment'.

Asked how he got the facts so wrong, Hipkins said: "There was some information that got lost in translation in being communicated to me".

National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said Hipkins "weaponised the private information of Charlotte Bellis to defend the lottery of human misery that is the MIQ system".

The minister apologised privately on March 15, but given the damage to Bellis' reputation, with people calling her a liar, the journalist wanted a public apology. 

Bellis said in a statement on Wednesday that the inaccurate information resulted in "unwarranted verbal abuse". She added that she and her partner stood by their decision to speak out about their experience.

But getting to this point took the threat of a defamation suit.

"We negotiated with her the public apology that has been released today," Hipkins said. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "We need to own up when something's gone wrong. The wrong information was shared."

"It shouldn't have been shared and the minister's apologised, that's the most important thing."

But Roshni Sami, an emergency MIQ applicant, said there's more to own up to.

"I would have expected that my rights and my health and my safety and my baby's safety would be upheld by the Government," Sami said. 

In particular, how the MIQ system treated pregnant people.

"This is a gross oversight in policy."

Ardern said the Government's always "acknowledged that there were a range of Kiwis affected by COVID restrictions".

An acknowledgment but not the apology so many - like Sami - want.

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