Coalition attempts to dispel discord over partnership visa policy

7:26 pm on 7 November 2019

New Zealand's coalition parties are making an attempt to publicly kiss and make up after ructions over partnership visas and the impact on the Indian community.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - flanked by deputy PM Winston Peters and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway - announces the increase in NZ's refugee quota.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, flanked by deputy PM Winston Peters and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has done a complete turnaround - insisting neither he nor his party gave any kind of directive about how immigration officials were applying the rules for those visas.

There's been a bust-up between ministers over a change in approach from Immigration New Zealand, and whether there was any political pressure that led to that change.

Members of the Indian community have been incensed by the new regime, and by comments made by New Zealand First MP Shane Jones.

Yesterday, ministers were playing the blame game but today there was clearly been an effort to take the heat out of any public disagreements.

The Indian community has been taking out much of its anger on Labour, with many previous supporters saying they had lost their faith in the party.

That did not stop New Zealand First continuing to assert that the way the rules were being applied - to make allowance for arranged marriages - was effectively a breach of the rules.

A few weeks ago, when asked about the change to the way partnership visas were being administered the New Zealand First leader took credit for his party tidying up "the quality of information on which the department relies".

Today he was asked whether he had ever given a directive.

'No, no, if I'd done that I'd have told you that," Mr Peters said.

"All I can say is the good news is it's back to the drawing board while we sort out the proper criteria to fit the cultural dimensions we're dealing with and to ensure that the system's honest and there's no rorts."

Yesterday, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway insisted there had been no ministerial directive to immigration officials, at least none that had gone through Cabinet.

He suggested Mr Peters might have been confused as many different immigration policies had come before Cabinet.

Mr Lees Galloway went further, saying his own role in the controversy was cleaning up the mess that had been created.

When asked for his response to those comments Mr Peters said "take your directions from the Prime Minister and what she's said, and from what I've said - we're on the same wavelength as we speak, right now".

The Prime Minister has not been available for comment today.

Senior ministers appear to be toning down the drama with their public comments, while finding a compromise behind the scenes.

The conciliatory approach from Mr Peters would suggest he's on board with that plan.

Mr Jones said immigration was always going to be a tricky issue between his party and Labour.

"Melding the two perspectives on immigration between the two parties, but any remarks about a fellow minister, that really lies in the province of the bosses of the government: that's the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister."

But he was less diplomatic with this incendiary message to the Indian community.

"The militants from Mumbai have ignited the touchpaper and I'll tell you it's got a slow fuse and it's going to burn all the way to the next election."

That afternoon, Mr Lees Galloway detailed what had come before Cabinet.

He told Parliament Cabinet discussed "policy changes to improve temporary work visas" on 10 December 2018, and the 2 September 2019.

"We discussed and agreed that a worker's partner and children will be able to apply to come to New Zealand on a visitor visa for the length of the worker's temporary work visa.

"Cabinet has not discussed Immigration New Zealand's operational management of temporary visa applications", he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs