Wednesday, June 19, 2024

DJ passport review hits right note with Minister

Minister of Internal Affairs, Brooke van Velden, says she is satisfied the Department followed correct procedures when processing an urgent passport application for Wellington DJ, Tessa Hills.

The case attracted public attention when Ms Hills won a competition to tour Australia with international DJ, Fred Again, but found her passport had expired.

She submitted an urgent passport application, with DJ Fred Again posting about her dilemma on social media.

Ministry of Internal Affairs deputy chief executive, Maria Robertson.

The son of Ministry of Internal Affairs deputy chief executive, Maria Robertson, saw the online post and alerted his mother to the issue., who subsequently forwarded an email from Ms Hills to a departmental colleague.

A message to DJ Fred Again from Ms Robertson regarding the passport issue was then posted by the international DJ on his Instagram feed.

“I’m the deputy chief executive of Internal Affairs,” the message screenshot shows.

DJ Messie.

“My son got in touch with Tessa after seeing your post. Tessa got in touch with us. She’s made her application and we are sorting it with her.”

Ms Robertson asserts she was not involved in the actual application process and that normal procedures were followed.

In March, the Minister sought assurances from the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs that the correct processes and policies had been followed in regards to the application.

“I have now received the report and I am pleased to see that the correct processing procedures were followed, and that no preferential treatment was given,” said Ms van Velden.

“The report does, however, identify that errors were made by the DCE around the privacy of the applicant. However, the Privacy Commissioner has assured that no feasible harm occurred as a result of this privacy breach.”

“I raised my concerns after being made aware of online social media activity by the Department’s Deputy Chief Executive (DCE) Maria Robertson. Specifically, interactions with international DJ Fred Again’s post for assistance in obtaining a passport for a New Zealander,” she said.

“I wanted to be assured that there was no breach of privacy and preferential treatment given to the applicant by the DCE and asked the Chief Executive to examine this. 

“My expectation has always been very clear that all New Zealanders applying for passports be treated equally regardless of their public status, and I am pleased to see that this has occurred in this case. My next expectation is that privacy of individuals is respected no matter their public status.”

The Minister said the Department’s Chief Executive, Paul James, will now take on board the recommendations of the report. 

“While there has been a perception of preferential treatment, the review has found this has not been the case. There is no evidence of preferential treatment, nor of any DIA leader playing a role in the decision to grant the passport renewal. The urgent passport was processed in the normal way, by the normal people, and the urgent fee was paid,” said Mr James.

“That said, we should have handled aspects of this better, specifically privacy implications and the use of social media. I accept the recommendations in the review and will begin to implement these immediately to ensure this does not happen again.

“The processing of same day urgent applications is not unusual for DIA. From 1 October 2023 to 30 March 2024, there were 14,026 urgent same day passports issued, with 62 being granted on 26 March 2024, including the passport in question. The urgent passport service is an important service we offer New Zealanders, and one the Department takes pride in,” he said.

Ms van Velden said the Minister’s Office did not play any part in the urgent application process. 

The Minister requested the report be made public and it can be found on the Department’s website, here.

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