'Racist' passport request riles New Zealand citizen of 10 years
A Palmerston North woman is alleging she was racially profiled by a health centre worker who said she didn't look like a Kiwi and asked for passport proof of her New Zealand citizenship.
But the health centre says the situation was a misunderstanding and checks were important to see if patients were eligible for government help.
Gina Chompinitkul, a New Zealand citizen of 10 years, was asked to provide proof of this on a visit to The Palms Medical Centre.
The staff member allegedly told the stunned woman and her husband only people who "look foreign" had to produce a passport.
Chompinitkul, originally from Thailand, was unable to visit her usual family GP over the New Year period, so went to The Palms as a casual patient when she was suffering from a cold.
She said the service was fine until it became "uncomfortable" when she was asked to provide a passport to prove her citizenship, so she could receive a subsidy.
Chompinitkul supplied her New Zealand driver licence, but was told that wasn't enough.
She had never previously been asked produce a passport in New Zealand, nor does she carry it around with her.
Her husband Volker Schroeter questioned the request and said they were told by the staff member everybody had to produce a passport.
"My question in return was, so what if John Smith, the fella from Feilding comes here? And then she said to us, 'well I know when somebody is a Kiwi. I can tell. Only people who look foreign have to produce a passport'.
"The point that we are making, and my wife felt quite humiliated about, was this expression of, well, I'd call it racism.
"Because you look foreign and because you speak with an accent, you must produce a passport."
The couple ended up agreeing to bring the passport back the next day.
Palms chief operations officer Bob Lissington said the whole issue had likely stemmed from a misunderstanding.
While he couldn't comment on the alleged remarks of the receptionist, racial profiling wasn't part of the centre's way of operating, he said.
When a casual patient comes to the centre, it was policy to check their name against a national register that includes the patients of every GP in the country.
If their name doesn't show up, the receptionist will ask for an NHI number or a passport as proof of citizenship to show they're eligible for the government-subsidised rates.
"That's not an uncommon practice ... I think most New Zealanders would likely be up in arms if we didn't make sure people weren't getting something the weren't entitled to."
He said Chompinitkul's name might not have shown up, even if she was registered at another GP, because of a spelling error by either the Palms receptionist or when her name was first entered on the register.
"[I understand] it must have been frustrating, and the receptionist could possibly have handled things better, but going forward there should be less misunderstandings like this."