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Dawn raid visits: Govt seeking advice on potential legislative changes

Carmel Sepuloni
Acting prime minister Carmel Sepuloni says the community needs to consulted on any changes too. Photo: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

Acting prime minister Carmel Sepuloni says the government is asking for advice on potential legislative changes to Dawn Raid-style visits after earlier failing to tighten the rules following a historic apology.

An independent review, released on Monday, into "out of hours immigration visits" for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) was launched in May after news the practice was still in use and targeting Pacific overstayers - including in a case the previous month - despite an official apology for the practice less than two years prior.

The Dawn Raids in the 1970s had overwhelmingly targeted Pacific people, who accounted for 86 percent of related prosecutions despite making up only a third of overstayers. US and UK citizens were only 5 percent of prosecutions, but about another third of total overstayers.

The review said the government's apology two years ago for the traumatic raids of the 1970s "rings hollow" in light of the failure to tighten the rules - with the report revealing that neither Immigration New Zealand (INZ) nor the minister had done any work to align their practice with the apology.

Sepuloni told Morning Report the apology was not hollow and they moved quickly when they found out it was still happening.

"I'm disappointed and for me it's triggering as well.

"I've said on a number of occasions, not only am I a part of a government that was apologising [about the Dawn Raids] but I'm part of the Pacific community who was being apologised to. We don't want to see this, it is triggering.

"The difference between this and the original Dawn Raids is that the original Dawn Raids were mandated by government policy, they government at the time knew what was happening and allowed that and pushed that to happen."

It had been her expectation the government's apology meant dawn raids would end, she said.

"Operationally, they [Immigration New Zealand] were still doing these after-hours operations and we didn't know that that was going on to be honest.

"Immigration New Zealand said they had a strong rationale from when and how and why they might undertake these. But given the spirit of the apology, for us that wasn't good enough, that's why we asked for an immediate pause, so that is why the minister for immigration then asked for a review to be undertaken of the practice, hence why we've got the report we've got now."

However, she defended the minister in charge, Andrew Little, saying she understood it was difficult to know "every detail of operational action that is happening on the ground".

One of the reasons given by Immigration New Zealand for when these 'visits' happened was due to public safety concerns, for example, Sepuloni said.

"The report said that basically if there is a need for one of these to take place due to that purpose then wouldn't you need a warrant of arrest or something similar?

"So what we need to do is dig down on where these have been happening, what the rationale is, and whether or not there's other measures need to be taken to actually justify when and how they could be done."

She expected officials would continue to put the practice on hold and that amendments would be looked at as well as legislation, if necessary.

"As far as I'm concerned, they need to stop and they have stopped because we've paused it, and we're asking for the advice on any legislative changes that may need to occur moving forward."

Asked if she supported the practice as a last resort, she said: "I would need have absolute certainty and transparency and I think that as ministers and the community would need to agree what those terms would be, but we haven't had that put to us yet.

"That would be the next step: If they had to be undertaken, what would that look like and do we agree that that is fair and reasonable?"