18 Aug 2023

Ministry for Pacific Peoples says staff were abused, lodges police report

5:26 pm on 18 August 2023
Security images of the two men who were escorted out of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples on 17 August. The matter has been referred to police.

Security images of the two men who were escorted out of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples on 17 August. The matter has been referred to police. Photo: Supplied

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples says its staff were abused at their Wellington office yesterday morning prompting it to contact the police.

In a statement, the ministry said two people tried to enter the office to film and get comment from staff in relation to sensitive expenditure.

The ministry's chief executive Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone said the incident happened on Thursday morning.

"Two people attempted to enter the premises to take video footage and obtain comment from staff in relation to sensitive expenditure," she said.

Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone.

Ministry's Secretary for Pacific Peoples Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone. (File photo) Photo: Supplied

"Staff safety across our offices is our number one priority. In response to this incident, the ministry took swift action to ensure staff safety was upheld.

"This included lodging a police report with accompanying video footage of the incident. We are unable to supply this footage publicly."

Police confirmed they were looking into the matter.

"Police were advised yesterday evening that two males entered the building of a Government Ministry and began asking questions of staff earlier that morning. They were escorted out of the building by Ministry staff," a police spokesperson said in a statement.

"Police are assessing the matter to determine any next steps."

The Public Service Commission last week criticised the ministry over spending nearly $40,000 on a farewell for its departing chief executive in October 2022.

ACT's Seymour refuses to apologise over Guy Fawkes comment

Yesterday afternoon, after the office altercation, ACT leader David Seymour joked he would like to blow up the ministry in an interview with Newstalk ZB.

He said: "In my fantasy we'd send a guy called Guy Fawkes in there and it'd be all over but we'll probably have to have a more formal approach than that".

David Seymour

ACT leader David Seymour (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT has a policy of abolishing the ministry, along with others like the Human Rights Commission and Ministry for Women.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the comments were unnecessary and he should apologise.

Seymour told RNZ he would not be apologising.

"To be totally clear the ACT party has no plans to dig up a 400-year-old villain who failed to blow up Parliament in the early 1600s," he said.

He was asked what was funny about suggesting the ministry should be blown up.

"People are so frustrated with endless bureaucracy and tyranny from our government that takes your money, makes you jump through hoops with endless red tape and regulation - and sometimes you think it'd be a bit funny if we could just blow it all up. But obviously, we're not going to do that," he said.

He rejected suggestions he should have worded it differently.

"No, because what you're talking about is a world where everybody walks on eggshells and has to apologise. It is an absolute travesty that you can't have a laugh from time to time.

"There's clearly no connection between my comments and very deplorable incidents of the Ministry of Pacific peoples.

"The real issue is you've got a ministry with 116 employees, $30 million budget, that produces nothing while people up and down the country are having to tighten their belts desperately."

Seymour himself in July demanded an apology from Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who had joked about poisoning Seymour with karaka berries from the seedpod necklace he was wearing.

"When David Seymour's not looking, I'm going to go like this into his water," Waititi had said during a party conference in Rotorua, tapping a seed over an imaginary glass, "there you are, re-indigenise yourself with some native seeds".

At the time, Seymour said that was "extremely dangerous rhetoric ... I don't think it's funny to joke about poisoning people". He told RNZ on Friday they were different situations, and denied his own comments were inflammatory.

"What I object to is the racial overtones, and the racial profiling and jokes that the Māori Party frequently makes," Seymour said. "When people start saying, I'm going to poison you to indigenise you, and put racial overtones into their jokes, I actually do object.

"I just think racial violence is a little bit different from talking about somebody who's been dead for 400 years as a way of cutting through government waste and bureaucracy."

He said politicians could "absolutely" make jokes, but should not be directly inciting violence.

In a statement, Pacific Peoples Minister Barbara Edmonds said the comments Seymour made were "abhorrent, incredibly irresponsible and deeply concerning".

"Violence and threats have no place in our political conversations," she said.

"I've written to David Seymour asking him to retract the comment, apologise and reconsider his statements and actions.

"Staff safety is my priority. Ministry for Pacific Peoples staff go to work every day to make life better for our Pacific community. Their workplace should be a safe space."

Green MP and party spokesperson for Pacific Peoples Teanau Tuiono said the altercation in the ministry's office was worrying.

"I found that news incredibly concerning because it's really important that our Ministry of Pacific Peoples staff can go to work and feel safe."

Tuiono said Seymour's comments came across as "dog-whistling" and were unacceptable from an elected representative, member of Parliament and leader of a political party.

"The comments are inflamatory and abhorrent and my concern here is it sends the wrong signals to his followers, in particular his far right followers.

"It's important he apologises, not only to the Ministry of Pacific Peoples but also more broadly to Pacific people."