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Fist bumps and a ‘stoked’ minister: Inside the fast-tracking of a DJ’s passport

Author
Azaria Howell,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 May 2024, 12:55pm
Internal Affairs Minister Brooke Van Velden previously said officials dealing with passports should not have their personal relationships affect their work.
Internal Affairs Minister Brooke Van Velden previously said officials dealing with passports should not have their personal relationships affect their work.

Fist bumps and a ‘stoked’ minister: Inside the fast-tracking of a DJ’s passport

Author
Azaria Howell,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 May 2024, 12:55pm

Correspondence from top-level public servants reveals Internal Affairs Minister Brooke van Velden was reportedly “stoked” with a decision to fast-track a young musician’s passport, despite then telling media the process wasn’t entirely ‘appropriate’.  

At the end of March, Wellington-based DJ Tessa Hills, known as Messie, won a competition to join British DJ Fred Again in Australia as part of his world tour. The only problem - she didn’t have a current passport. 

Fred Again posted to his 2.5 million Instagram followers pleading for assistance to help get Hills an up-to-date passport, catching the eye of a senior leader at the Department of Internal Affairs. 

Deputy chief executive of service delivery and operations Maria Robertson said “a number of people” saw the post, including her son, a Fred Again fan. 

Robertson contacted Fred Again via Instagram direct message, to let him know the matter was being looked at. She said she did not do anything to fast-track the woman’s passport, merely acknowledging her application and copying a colleague into an email. 

Parts of the exchange between Fred Again and Robertson were posted by the British DJ on Instagram. 

Fred Again posted to social media and received a message back from Maria Robertson of Internal Affairs.Fred Again posted to social media and received a message back from Maria Robertson of Internal Affairs. 

In the message, Robertson said Internal Affairs was “sorting” Hills’ application. 

“We love your music and we are thrilled you are backing one of your own to support your gig,” she added, to which the musician expressed his thanks via social media. 

The matter, which was widely reported at the time, caused Internal Affairs Minister Brooke van Velden to make inquiries. 

The Minister said it was not appropriate for officials to use their personal channels for official business and she wanted to check there had been “no undue influence” in the situation. 

“My expectation for every official dealing with passports is to not have their personal relationships affect their work. It is not appropriate for officials to use their personal channels for official business,” van Velden said at the time, whilst adding she was pleased Hills would receive her passport in time. 

“My clear expectation is that the privacy of individuals applying for passports is upheld and not disclosed to other individuals and I intend to make that expectation extremely clear to the department,” she added. 

Texts from Robertson, to a person who works with van Velden, whose name has been redacted under the Official Information Act, show Robertson saying the opportunity was “pretty cool”. 

Text correspondence involving Department of Internal Affairs executive Maria Robertson.Text correspondence involving Department of Internal Affairs executive Maria Robertson. 

“I’m not sure if the Minister is a Fred Again follower but this is on his Insta for his 2.5m followers to see,” the text from Robertson said, to which the other person was pleased. 

“Brilliant that is fantastic, I’ll try find an opportune time to bring it up to her [Brooke van Velden],” the response read. 

A further batch of text correspondence, revealed through NZME’s Official Information Act request, shows communication between Robertson and her boss, DIA chief executive Paul James. 

Correspondence involving Department of Internal Affairs Chief Executive and Secretary for Internal Affairs Paul James.Correspondence involving Department of Internal Affairs Chief Executive and Secretary for Internal Affairs Paul James. 

The text messages describe Robertson having an “impromptu chat” with the Internal Affairs Minister. 

“Min[ister] wanted to know if it was possibly a good news story. We were a step ahead,” the message said, adding “Minister was stoked” after a shaded-out redacted portion. 

James reacted to the iMessage with a fist bump emoji, with many other aspects of the conversation redacted under the OIA. 

The fast-tracking of the DJ’s passport was labelled as “gangster” by friends of Robertson’s son, a Fred Again fan, according to the texts. 

Correspondence with Paul James, describing the reaction to the passport being fast-tracked.Correspondence with Paul James, describing the reaction to the passport being fast-tracked. 

A screenshot was sent to James, captioned by Robertson as “Just Fred Again posting to his 2.5m followers. I’ve sent to the Minister’s office. My phone is blowing up with the boys [sic] mates etc telling me how gangster this is.” 

“Classic!” James replied. 

Following reports of the Wellington DJ’s passport being fast-tracked, complete with screenshots from Fred Again’s Instagram stories showing correspondence with Robertson, an Internal Affairs worker, whose name is not included in the OIA, was upset at the media’s coverage of the matter. 

Correspondence to the DIA boss described the media as "going nuts" about the story.Correspondence to the DIA boss described the media as "going nuts" about the story. 

“Media going nuts. Some grizzled about ‘special treatment’ etc,” the text read, with a redacted part, and ended with “Sigh.” 

Internal Affairs Minister Brooke van Velden confirmed she spoke with Paul James on Wednesday March 27. 

When contacted for further comment about the information revealed through the correspondence, Brooke van Velden said, “As I said in March, I am pleased by the outcome for the DJ in this case that she received her passport in time. However, I expect that all New Zealanders applying for passports be treated equally regardless of their public status and this has consistently been made clear to the Department.” 

“I have made my expectation very clear that every official dealing with passports is not to have their personal relationships play into their role. It is not appropriate for officials to use their personal channels for official business or to disclose private details about individuals to others,” the minister reiterated. 

Azaria Howell is a Wellington-based multimedia reporter with an eye across the region. She joined NZME in 2022 and has a keen interest in city council decisions, public service agency reform and transport. 

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