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Accredited Employer visa set for changes ‘urgently’ – Minister

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Immigration Minister Erica Stanford plans to bring proposals for immediate changes to the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) to Cabinet in the next couple of weeks.

She says the more immediate changes would aim to balance getting more highly skilled workers into New Zealand against the need to support them with adequate infrastructure.

Critics including the Green Party want the government to prioritise delinking the visa from specific employers, but Stanford says while a broader rework of the scheme will consider that the government has not made decisions on it.

Public Service Commission review of the AEWV scheme on Tuesday found it had led to migrants being able to buy jobs, but would be exploited when they arrived.

Some workers were not getting paid, and ineligible employers were being granted accreditation.

The scheme brought in by the previous Labour government in 2022 after Covid-19 border closures led to a worker shortage had aimed to curb migrant exploitation, but Labour leader Chris Hipkins admitted on Morning Report on Wednesday its implementation meant it “actually had the reverse effect”.

The review was only set up after a whistleblower came forward with allegations that Immigration NZ was failing to carry out the proper checks.

Stanford said she had made her expectations clear to the agency it should listen to its frontline workers.

“It is not good enough that those people were not listened to, and I’ve made my expectations very clear of Immigration New Zealand that they are to listen to those frontline staff,” Stanford said.

“When things go wrong, the first people that know are the people on the frontline and they have to be listened to.”

She had sought assurances the agency was taking the recommendations seriously, and would be receiving regular updates, she said.

She put some of the blame for the scheme’s failings on Labour’s approach.

“I think what we had was a perfect storm of a brand new visa, with the borders opening, with a brand new IT system and a whole lot of new staff … if I were the Immigration Minister at the time, would I have done that in the middle of the opening of the borders? Possibly not.”

Changes to the scheme would be rolled out in stages, she said.

“With immigration settings there are some things you can do immediately, there are some things you have to wait a little while to do because they require policy changes and they require IT changes, and then some very long-term things you can do like a government policy statement.

“What we will be doing urgently are the things we can put in place immediately, and then we will be doing a longer term review of the AEWV settings to look at, actually, is the visa fit for purpose.

“I’ll be taking a paper to Cabinet in the next couple of weeks to make sure that we are getting the balance right between the highly skilled workers that we need and making sure that we’re able to have the absorptive capacity in New Zealand to make sure that we can actually have the infrastructure and the housing, healthcare and education services we need to make sure that we can look after everybody.”

The news of a policy rework will be heartening for commentators disappointed the review itself had not included policy in its scope.

However, the Green Party has been pushing for an immediate change of decoupling the AEWV visas from single employers.

Its Immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said it “could make the biggest impact on migrant exploitation”.

“Workers’ whole ability to stay in the country depends on a single employer – that increases the risk of exploitation and the government could end it tomorrow.”

Stanford said there were no plans to change it at this point but the larger re-examination of the visa would consider it.

“Look, I’ve made no decisions about decoupling visas at this stage, but it is something that we will look at in the mix of things when we look at the AEWV settings in coming months,” she said.

Source: RNZ

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Bainimarama and Qiliho found guilty after appeal

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Former Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and suspended Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho have been found guilty by the Suva High Court.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecution had appealed the matter following the acquittal of the two by the Suva Magistrates Court.

Bainimarama was charged with one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice, while Qiliho was charged with one count of abuse of office.

Bainimarama had directed the suspended Police Commissioner to stop an investigation into a police complaint on a University of the South Pacific matter sometime in July, 2020.

Magistrate Seini Puamau acquitted them in October last year.

This morning, the two were found guilty, and the matter has been remitted back to the Magistrates Court.

Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo says he accepts all the evidence of the state witnesses as he finds them credible.

He says it was apparent that as in the first responders case that the problem emanated from the allege financial abuse and mismanagement by the senior members of USP.

Justice Temo says he upholds the state grounds of appeals one, two, six, seven, and eight; however, he deems grounds three, four, and five unnecessary and a waste of the court’s time.

The Acting Chief Justice ordered that the matter be called before Magistrate  Puamau on the 18th of this month, where she will have to pronounce Bainimarama and Qiliho guilty as charged and convict them accordingly.

Justice Temo directed the accused lawyers to file mitigation and sentencing submissions for both responders by Monday.

The state will have to do the same.

He adds that Magistrate Puamau will have to hear the sentencing submissions next Thursday.

Justice Temo adds that the Resident Magistrate will have to pass the sentences for Bainimarama and Qiliho on the 28th of this month.

More to follow.

VIA FBC NEWS

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Associate Health Minister Casey Costello digs in over excise tax claims

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The associate health minister has defended in Parliament claims she specifically sought out advice on freezing the tobacco excise tax.

Documents show Casey Costello asked her ministry for advice on freezing the excise, despite denying in an interview with RNZ she had specifically sought the advice out.

Speaking during Question Time on Thursday, Costello maintained she had not specifically asked for the advice, and she had not written the documents she sent to officials.

“The documentation is a range of historical policy positions and notes that were held in New Zealand First policy positions. Some of it relates to things that were passed in the legislation when New Zealand First was in government. This is a range of points and positions and it’s about five pages long.”

She said her actions had been distorted by the media.

“The fact is, I was asked a question about whether I had sought specific advice. I had not sought specific advice, which was the question I answered. I referred to a range of advice I had sought from officials,” she said.

Costello said she was unsure who wrote the documents.

Labour’s health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall said the minister was still responsible for the documents she presented, and the prime minister should relieve Costello of her duties.

“When a minister gives documents to officials, if that is done or collated by her office it is still her responsibility. Her office acts on her behalf, she needs to take responsibility for it.”

Senior National minister Chris Bishop said while ministers were responsible for things they gave officials, there was a question over whether they were responsible for the generation of that material.

“I would argue they cannot be, in the same way that if, for example, a Labour Party minister gave a document to the Ministry of Education, that was the NZEI or the PPTA or the CTU, for example, they cannot be questioned about the CTU in Parliament.

“They can be questioned about the handling of that document and what’s in the document, but the generation of that document I think would fall outside the scope of ministerial responsibility.”

Speaking to media after Question Time, he said the matter of the authorship of New Zealand First’s policies was for Costello to answer, but he had certainly presented party policy to officials.

He said talking to a range of groups was how the country gets good policy.

“People have easy access to ministers and MPs in New Zealand. All political parties work with a range of groups when it comes to developing policy.”

Standing in for the prime minister in the House, ACT leader David Seymour said he had had assurances from all coalition partners they had had no funding from the tobacco industry.

“I am confident that there has been no undue influence on the policies of this government by the tobacco industry.”

Seymour told reporters it was possible Costello had misinterpreted RNZ’s questioning, and RNZ had misinterpreted her answers, which had caused confusion.

“I think that she was being open to the best of her ability. The other thing I just say is this: we say we want people in our democracy to stand up, run for office, and become ministers, and actually go and listen, take the best advice, and make the best policy. She’s done all that stuff and people are jumping all over her.”

VAI RNZ

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Third charge laid over shoplifting investigation believed to involve former MP Golriz Ghahraman

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Police have laid a third shoplifting charge against a person believed to be former MP Golriz Ghahraman.

The investigation shoplifting has been referred to by police as “subject to public interest”.

Earlier this month, Ghahraman was accused of three counts of shoplifting, prompting her resignation from Parliament.

The latest charge relates alleged offending took place at a Wellington store on 22 October, 2023.

The woman is due to appear on all three charges in Auckland District Court on 1 February.

VIA RNZ

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