Labour, NZ First arranged marriage coalition clash continues in Cabinet

9:07 am on 13 November 2019

The spat between Labour and New Zealand First ministers over Indian arranged marriages may have moved behind closed doors - but is no closer to resolution.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand First MP Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ

The prime minister has already announced that Immigration New Zealand will exempt arranged marriages for partnership visas where couples cannot fulfil the test of having lived together for 12 months.

Labour needs New Zealand First to get any changes across the line however, and that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week Immigration NZ would be reversing its tough new stance on partnership visas at the request of the government.

The hardline policy, which had a particular impact on the Indian community, led to protests and some Indian New Zealanders resigning from their long-time Labour Party memberships.

Others have vowed not to vote Labour next year.

Sunny Kaushal

Sunny Kaushal Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Kiwi-Indian Sunny Kaushal has set up the South Asian Community leaders group in response to New Zealand First MP Shane Jones' comments that immigrants should catch the next flight home if they did not like the country's immigration policy.

"Some of the communities are extremely hurt, this is not a New Zealand that we are proud of. Such rhetoric or xenophobia should not have any place in a diverse or multicultural community," Mr Kaushal said.

Ms Ardern put a stake in the ground last week when she announced partnership visas would return to the status quo - that is, waiving the living together requirement for arranged marriages.

Now she's in limbo trying to find consensus with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters who has been clear the law - including the living together test - is how he believes it should be.

A week on and the scrap has moved to the Cabinet table. The Immigration Minister's insistence the matter would be cleared up in just days is looking more like a pipedream.

Mr Peters told RNZ it was unclear what the status quo was.

"First of all it had been applied offshore and there had been serious differences in its application. It was being applied onshore and there were more serious variations in its application.

"As a consequence of that we've looked at it and said we need to clear this up - what are we dealing with here? - make sure people aren't being unfairly treated," Mr Peters said.

Winston Peters

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Mr Peters would not be drawn on whether his party was tightening the law but said it would stop the system being rorted.

"Well what you'll have is the enforcement of the rules and proper enforcement of the rules - not rorts and evasions of the criteria that we would have properly set. We had numerous examples of that in the past," he said.

Mr Peters' problem is with the different standards being applied.

"We decided, like so much in the immigration policy of the past, to start cleaning up the granular evidence and get a proper population policy under way," he said.

Ms Ardern said New Zealand already had a very diverse population, and immigration policies must be diverse too.

"And more so than just strictly a strategy around population growth - I think that's probably quite a crude way of planning for ultimately what is a very diverse society," she said.

As for Mr Jones, he has considerably toned down his rhetoric against the Indian community after Ms Ardern had words with him.

"I had my kōrero, she laid down the kaupapa ... it may sound a little corny for me to say that but in actual fact - fireworks language aside - I actually understand the constitution," he said.

Mr Jones insists however he will not back down on pushing to curb immigration during next year's election campaign when he takes off his Cabinet hat and firmly puts his New Zealand First one on.

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