Promoter claims border approvals a ‘game of favourites’

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International music and comedy acts are being approved and rejected for border exemptions in a “game of favourites”, according to a promoter.

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The Bay Dreams festival in 2020.
Photo: Facebook / Bay Dreams

British comedian Russell Howard is about to tour New Zealand and other acts allowed in through managed isolation this summer include drag queen RuPaul and musicians at Northern Bass in Mangawhai and the Bay Dreams festival.

The vice-president of the Promoters Association, Gray Bartlett, said despite being an approved promoter with Immigration New Zealand, he was offered no explanation on why acts such as the Music of Cream and American speaker Michael Franzese were turned down.

No-one had spelt out what the criteria were for approval nor who was making the decisions.

“What I really don’t like is where governments begin to start with favouritism and choosing who they like, or getting people to choose who they like to come in. That’s not right. And and it can be done quite easily in our business because they can formulate reasons why someone may be important to have here. But in reality, it doesn’t stand the sniff test, I’m afraid. And we can prove that with some of our applications.”

One project he was involved with would be employing about a 100 local workers if their application was approved, but he said he did not want to put that at risk by talking about it.

“I don’t want to affect the lives of these Oscar winners and Grammy winners who want to come out here in a month or so’s time to give great enhancement to New Zealand as a country, but it’s all a game a favourites, it’s who you know in government, and this particular government is particularly poor at this particular task.”

Bartlett, who is patron of the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand and has previously brought the likes of Michael Jackson and Pavarotti to New Zealand, said millions of dollars which would go into accommodation, services and employing local crews was being overlooked, as well as other benefits.

“One of them in particular Michael Franzese, he is one of the top US speakers – a major sporting team in New Zealand has been after for a couple of years, he gives a lot of his funds back to youth in crisis, and that was part of our application. He does all the things for the major US football teams and basketball teams speaking at the start of their seasons, he’s a well known, major speaker in America.

“These are beneficial to the good health of New Zealanders, especially youth in one case, and in another case we [would be] using New Zealand performers, crew, staging, accommodation, everything.”

He estimated 70 percent of promoters could fold within a year as they struggled with navigating Covid-19, the costs of rescheduling gigs and the process of getting international talent into the country.

An Immigration New Zealand spokesperson said all requests for a border exception for individuals in the arts and entertainment industry are assessed against the same ‘other critical worker’ criteria as any other request for a worker as set out in immigration instructions.

The criteria is based on whether the skills or experience the person has are readily obtainable in New Zealand or whether the worker is undertaking a time-critical role in specific areas, they said.

“INZ can confirm that since 18 June 2020, 66 requests have been received relating to the arts and entertainment industry, which includes all artists and festival performers but excludes film and television. Of those, 39 requests have been approved, 23 requests have been declined, and 4 requests are still being assessed.

“In regards to the request relating to Music of Cream, based on the information provided INZ was not satisfied that the performers met the criteria, particularly in regards to demonstrating that the role was time-critical to work which would bring significant benefit to the national or regional economy as there was limited information provided to demonstrate what the economic benefit would be. INZ has engaged with Mr Bartlett to advise him of his options following the decline in August, however INZ is yet to receive any new information or a request for reconsideration. Should Mr Bartlett request a reconsideration or make a new request, INZ would consider this.”

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