Faafoi admits ‘doing the dumb immigration thing’

Faafoi admits ‘doing the dumb immigration thing’

But he will keep his ministerial portfolios

Craig McCulloch

Cabinet minister Kris Faafoi has apologised to the Prime Minister for his messages to Jason Kerrison regarding an immigration case, but will not lose his job.

Mr Faafoi is in hot water after Newshub published messages between him and the Opshop frontman, discussing the musician’s step-father’s declined immigration case.

The messages show Mr Faafoi promising to talk to people who can speed things up – but later saying he can’t put anything in writing.

Prime Minister warns

Speaking to media on December 6, 2019, he said he had been given a “stern talking to” from the Prime Minister, but did not break the rules.

“I said some dumb things, but I did not do the wrong thing.”

Mr Faafoi said his texts to Mr Kerrison – who he described as an old friend of his family – were “untidy and dumb” and the unguarded exchanges were motivated by a desire not to let a mate down.

Mr Faafoi said that he was told by advisers he could support the case, but could not advocate for it. He said he therefore didn’t write any letter to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and instead got in touch with the musician’s local MP Matt King, who agreed to champion the case.

“I gave him the impression things were happening when they were not,” Mr Faafoi said.

He said he stopped replying Mr Kerrison’s texts when the volume became uncomfortable. “Maybe I should have stopped replying from the start… lesson learned,” he said.

Although Mr Faafoi said he didn’t expect Mr Kerrison to go public, he would take it on the chin and hoped the pair could still be friends. He again apologised to the musician and his family for offering false hope that he’d intervene on their behalf, when he knew that he wouldn’t do so.

Public expectations

“The Prime Minister has high standards, the public expects high standards… I have high standards and I know I have not met all of those.”

In a statement released earlier, Mr Faafoi acknowledged his correspondence with the musician was “messy” and could create a bad impression, but he said he took “no actions” to advance, influence or advocate for Kerrison’s family’s case.

“I can hand on heart say I wasn’t doing anything to advance the case, and the messages just reflect me not wanting to let a mate down. In hindsight I should have been clearer with him,” Mr Faafoi said.

“I know I need to be more upfront in the future about what I can and can’t do if I’m approached for help.”

Ardern’s Statement

In a separate statement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she maintained confidence in Mr Faafoi, but had informed him she expected better.

“While Kris’s communication didn’t have the clarity I expect, the Minister has assured me he never actually took any actions that sought to influence the case.

“Given that, this is not a case where the Minister has failed to manage a conflict of interest appropriately.”

Nevertheless, the text messages had created an “unhelpful impression” that the Minister might assert some influence over the case, she said.

“While it may be more comfortable for Ministers to give the impression they are helping, I would rather they were upfront and tell people if they can’t assist and give them the reasons why, and point them to someone who can help,” Ms Ardern said.

The Minister said the only action he was to contact Kerrison’s local electorate MP Matt King on the advice of the Associate Immigration Minister’s office.

Mr Faafoi also contacted Mr Kerrison’s mother to offer to write a supporting letter, again on advice, but never wrote or sent it.

In a separate statement, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) confirmed no Ministers had attempted to influence its decision-making.

Craig McCulloch is Deputy Political Editor at Radio New Zealand. The above story (highly edited) and picture have been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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