5 Nov 2019

Indian community 'shouldn't be surprised' by immigration comments - Jones

3:04 pm on 5 November 2019

Shane Jones says the Indian community should never have started a row with New Zealand First because he "returns fire with fire''.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, also Forestry Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Associate Finance Minister, Associate State Owned Enterprises Minister, Associate Transport Minister

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

A change in approach by immigration officials to partnership visas - insisting that couples have to spend time living together in order to be eligible - means Indians in particular are having a much harder time bringing their spouses to New Zealand.

After people spoke out about the tougher stance, the senior NZ First MP last month lashed out at the Indian community, telling them to catch the next flight home if they didn't like the country's immigration policy.

"They need to detoxify their rhetoric, this is contested space now that we've reached five million people. What's the contribution of immigration, what's the best blend of immigration policy. They shouldn't be surprised I have penetrating insights and they should not catastrophise it,'' said Mr Jones.

"I probably feel I'm one of the most eminently qualified people to talk about population policy, immigration, the blend of economics, the blend of migrant labour.''

Asked why he was the most qualified, Mr Jones said: "I'm the son of the Treaty - I don't need to say anything more than that."

Mr Jones said he's had thousands of messages since the New Zealand First conference, where he first made comments about the Indian community, supporting the party's strong stance on immigration.

He said those messages were full of comments saying "it's about time someone stood up and was not cowered by accusations of racism''.

Mr Jones denied that his comments were creating a rift within the coalition.

"I thoroughly understand the need for the Immigration Minister to be judicious. But let me tell you, no activist is ever going to asphysiate my language or my views about the optimum mix of population policy, the place of bi-culturalism, what future we have with unvetted low-level value immigration - I'm just not going to change,'' he said.

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National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National Party leader Simon Bridges has weighed in, saying Mr Jones' comments were out of order.

"I've got a huge amount of sympathy for the Indian community. I think what Shane Jones has said is entirely unacceptable, is distasteful, and it's wrong,'' he said.

While NZ First leader Winston Peters continues to claim credit for the change, Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway insists no government directive was given.

"I'm not aware that there was any directive. It didn't come from me, it didn't come from Cabinet and I haven't heard from any of my immigration officials that they heard any directive from any member of the government,'' he said.

The Labour Party has been left to sort out the mess created by its coalition partner, and Mr Lees-Galloway has directed his officials to come up with a solution in the next few days.

"I think people will see that the minister, who is a Labour MP, is stepping in to sort this out and will see that Labour takes this issue seriously and is dealing with it,'' he said.

Mr Lees-Galloway said he had not asked Immigration New Zealand if they received any directive from Mr Peters or Mr Jones.

He said if a directive like that had been received he would expect his officials to tell him.

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