National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis says there a "lot of great things happening in the garages of South Auckland", and her boss did not mean to offend when he said "brothers" were sitting in them and pondering lives of crime.
In a recent interview, Christopher Luxon said gang members had "the money, got all the bling, flash cars".
"If you're sitting in a garage in South Auckland with your two brothers and you're thinking about life and where you're going, consciously or unconsciously, the gang life looks pretty attractive," the National Party leader told Christchurch-based Chris Lynch Media.
"Sorry if anyone is offended," he said on Tuesday, refusing to apologise for what he referred to as "serious, substantive conversations" about the causes of crime.
Willis told RNZ's Morning Report on Wednesday Luxon "did not disrespect anyone with his comments in the way that's being read into it".
"What he was referring to was a specific conversation he'd had with a community worker, who had talked about their experience with why some young people they had worked with had been attracted by the idea of joining a gang.
"What Chris has also said, and I know he believes, is the vast majority of young people in South Auckland are aspirational for their future. We know there's a lot of great things happening in the garages of South Auckland, and there is no desire to show disrespect to people living in that part of New Zealand."
Mangere MP and Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, one of six Labour MPs retiring at next year's election, told Morning Report Luxon "engages well with our communities, and he's not ignorant".
"I just felt that he was using this same old, same old political rhetoric, the dog-whistle politics. I just thought, you can't do that as a leader. That kind of politics is very divisive, and if you're wanting to build a nation based on diverse populations - we don't all speak the same language and we don't all live in the same world - he's got to be better than that."
Sio said the region has long had to deal with stereotypes and discrimination.
"When I think about the Dawn Raids and the impact it had on mine and many Pacific communities back in the 1970s, and we apologised for that as a government last year, but in my engagement with young people they're still experiencing that, in the education system, in health, in the workplace…
"Yes, we've got some problems and yes, the community's aware of it and yes, the community has worked tooth and nail - on limited resources - to try and address those things. But that's not all of our young people, and I just think it's wrong to paint the picture and just paint everybody as if everybody was criminal, everybody's sitting in garages thinking about criminal life. That's just not the case."
'Make sure that investment continues'
Sio has been in Parliament since 2008, the longest-serving of Labour's six departing MPs. He told Morning Report it was time for someone else to "roll with it".
"Next year marks my 15th year, and when you combine that with the time I've spent as deputy mayor and representative of our communities on the former Manukau City Council, that's more than 22 years in public life and I want some freedom to be able to conduct my other roles as a matai of my extended family, but also I want to explore other new challenges."
While his colleague Jamie Strange on Tuesday appeared to imply he though Labour would lose the election, saying he was "better suited for government than opposition", Sio said he was not worried for his soon-to-be ex-colleagues.
"Look, it's a year out, our teams are ready and if I get out and about in South Auckland, I think our people are raring to get into the campaign proper, next year."
Whoever takes over the Pacific portfolio, he hoped they continued to take a long-term view.
"When you're trying to address inequities from the past, the investment must be long-term. It's not just been about a year or three years out; it's about making sure that you're placing investment where you can make the most impact, and make sure that investment continues."