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Luxon not ruling out public inquiry into Te Pāti Māori allegations

Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Thu, 6 Jun 2024, 1:27pm
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Luxon not ruling out public inquiry into Te Pāti Māori allegations

Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Thu, 6 Jun 2024, 1:27pm

Christopher Luxon isn’t ruling out a public inquiry into the allegations surrounding Te Pāti Māori but says the current investigation must first run its course. 

Te Pāti Māori has “unequivocally refuted” claims it misused data from census records to help its election campaign, or deceptively obtained personal information from the Covid-19 Immunisation Programme for campaigning purposes. 

Speaking to media in Fiji, the Prime Minister reiterated how serious the allegations were. 

Asked whether a public inquiry was on the table, Luxon didn’t rule it out, saying he would let the current investigation run its course before assessing whether any further investigation was required. 

Police have confirmed they’re making inquiries into the allegations, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner confirmed it was notified yesterday by Stats NZ of a potential privacy breach relating to the 2023 Census. 

“We will continue to engage with them as they work through their investigation” the Privacy Commissioner said in a statement. 

“Given the public interest in the issues reported in the media we are asking the various agencies concerned for further information to inform our next steps. 

“This touches on sensitive personal information provided in the context of an assurance of trust and confidentiality.” 

Earlier today it was revealed Fijian nationals will soon not require a transit visa while travelling through New Zealand, as the two countries’ leaders committed to reaching $2 billion in two-way trade. 

Luxon confirmed today that the visa - implemented following the Fijian coup in 2006 - would be scrapped in the coming months. 

However, Luxon hadn’t gone as far on immigration as Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka would have liked. The pair’s joint statement included Rabuka’s encouragement for New Zealand to consider a “visa on arrival” policy for Fijians travelling to Aotearoa. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Fijian PM Sitiveni Rabuka sit down for official talks. Photo / PoolPrime Minister Christopher Luxon and Fijian PM Sitiveni Rabuka sit down for official talks. Photo / Pool 

Increasing trade with Fiji had been a priority for Luxon ahead of his first Pacific visit as Prime Minister and that was reflected in the two countries’ commitment to grow trade by $100 million annually to 2030, when it was hoped two-way trade was worth $2b. 

“With two-way trade currently worth nearly $1.4 billion we are building on a strong foundation,” Luxon said. 

“But there remains significant opportunity for growth that will benefit both our countries.” 

The trade target was accompanied by almost $27m of spending from New Zealand in Fiji, including a donation to Fiji’s fund that helped relocate communities after natural disasters, an upgrade to airport facilities to help Fiji comply with New Zealand biosecurity requirements and support for farmers in five Pacific countries. 

The transit visa soon to be scrapped was one of the final immigration conditions still in place between New Zealand and Fiji following the 2006 coup. The visa was intended to prevent Fijians from seeking asylum in New Zealand. 

Currently, Fijians who hadn’t been successful in applying for the visa or had forgotten to do so were not able to enter the country. 

The visa would remain in place for Fijian nationals for some months but when it was removed, Fijians would be able to transit New Zealand with a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority, which took 72 hours to process, cost up to $23 and lasted for two years. 

“Many Fijian nationals travel through New Zealand to reach other destinations in the Pacific and around the world – we expect this will have a positive economic impact for the region,” Luxon said. 

In the joint statement, Rabuka was thankful for the change but continued to call for further changes allowing Fijians to apply for a visa on arrival in New Zealand. 

Meeting the 2030 trade target was considered doable by New Zealand’s trade representatives in Fiji but would require significant work from both countries given trade pre-Covid had stayed consistently around $600-700m per annum. 

Fiji was New Zealand’s 22nd largest export market and second-fastest growing. Trade between the two nations increased by 34 per cent last year with New Zealand’s exports worth about $830m. 

More popular exports included vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions. Fiji’s exports were more service-based with potential for growth in New Zealand businesses outsourcing call centres, back-office IT and software design functions. 

New Zealand’s other spending included $3.6m to Fiji’s Climate Relocation of Communities Trust fund. Given Fiji’s exposure to natural disasters and severe weather events, the fund was understood to establish world-leading practices in shifting communities post-event - something pertinent to New Zealand after the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland Anniversary floods. 

About $15m would go towards a New Zealand Plant and Food Research-led programme to support farmers in five Pacific countries, including Fiji, to adapt to the impacts of climate change on production. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon gifted Fijian PM Sitiveni Rabuka a harmonica ahead of official talks. Photo / PoolPrime Minister Christopher Luxon gifted Fijian PM Sitiveni Rabuka a harmonica ahead of official talks. Photo / Pool 

About $7.5m would be given to Fiji’s economic reform programme while more than $500,000 would help upgrade the High Temperature Forced Air (HTFA) Facility at Nadi International Airport to enhance Fiji’s biosecurity measures. 

In their statement, the pair acknowledged the Pacific’s “challenging geopolitical environment” and promised to have greater coordination and sharing of “information and insights”. 

Rabuka also intended to review Fiji’s potential entry into the PACER Plus regional trade and development agreement, a key objective of Luxon’s prior to the trip. 

Prior to the meeting, Luxon’s gift to his Fijian counterpart appeared to be received well by Rabuka, who accepted Luxon’s gift of a harmonica and proceeded to play a few notes. 

Luxon said he’d been told Rabuka was a prodigious harmonicist and hoped Rabuka would enjoy the gift in times he needed to relax. The harmonica, of Hohner make, was one of three in New Zealand, Luxon said. 

Rabuka’s gift was slightly humorous in nature. The Fijian PM presented Luxon with a playing shirt of the Fijian Drua Super Rugby team. 

In the last round of Super Rugby before the playoffs, Luxon’s beloved Crusaders were relying on the Drua losing to make the top eight and qualify for the finals. 

The Drua instead won, knocking the Crusaders out of the top eight and finishing a dismal season for the Canterbury team. 

Luxon, who had repeatedly guaranteed the Crusaders would reach the playoffs, accepted the shirt in a good and somewhat resigned spirit. 

However, he said the result was for the best as Rabuka would’ve been “very grumpy” if the Drua hadn’t made the playoffs and therefore the Crusaders missing out meant potentially avoiding a “diplomatic incident”. 

Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime. 

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