Human Rights Commission 'carefully' assessing reports of Meng Foon's political donations, Kiri Allan updates conflict of interest info

The Human Rights Commission says it takes neutrality "extremely seriously" following revelations that its Race Relations Commissioner donated to National and Labour campaigns.

It said it was considering media reports on Friday that Foon had made donations to political parties during his time in the role and "these raise questions in terms of his perceived neutrality".

"The appointment of a person to the role of a Human Rights Commissioner after having held previous public roles always requires careful management. While the Commission does not make such appointments, it takes the issue of neutrality extremely seriously," a statement said.  

"The media reports will be carefully assessed and no further public comment is planned at this stage."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has released a statement on Foon's donation to Labour MP Kiri Allan, who was a backbench MP at the time it was received but is now the Justice Minister.

Hipkins said that the minister has now "taken the necessary steps to register the matter now that she holds the Justice portfolio". 

"The Minister has also assured me that she has not made any decisions in her portfolio that bring this potential conflict into play."

Newshub spoke earlier to Foon, who said he was "comfortable" about the donations and described it as a "family tradition to support left and right parties".

Asked if it was appropriate to donate money to Allan considering his role, Foon said: "It didn't cross my mind. It's just a thing that we do automatically".

The Commission noted that prior to taking on the Race Relations Commissioner role in 2019, Foon was the Gisborne Mayor and had shown a "deep commitment" to the local community.

Electoral return forms show "M and Y Foon" donated $1500 to Allan in June 2020, ahead of that year's election. An address for these donors is associated with a company that Foon is a director of.

The return also shows Triple Eight Investments provided $9185.04 in rent subsidies to Allan between August and September 2020. According to the Companies Register, Foon was a director of the now-deregistered company.

Speaking to Newshub, Foon said donations had been made to other candidates, including National's 2020 East Coast candidate Tania Tapsell. 

The National Party confirmed to Newshub on Friday afternoon that it did receive a $1000 donation from Foon in June 2020. This is below the threshold required for disclosure on the electoral return.

As the Race Relations Commissioner, Foon is meant to be independent of the Government.

He told Newshub he was confident he could be independent and expects the Government to also be independent in who they choose for the Human Rights Commission roles.

Foon said he didn't regret his support and, speaking of the donation to Allan, "it's only a minor sum". Between the donation and rental subsidies, it's a total of more than $10,500 to Allan's campaign.

In his statement on Friday evening, Hipkins said individuals who hold public office "must always act impartially in their roles regardless of the government of the day".

"However many individuals who have been appointed to public roles have had associations, or affiliations with various political parties.

"An example of this is National MP Jackie Blue who was appointed Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission in April 2013, while she was still an MP."

Hipkins noted Foon's comment about donating to different parties.

"This balanced approach to supporting various candidates regardless of their party affiliation is something that used to be more common in New Zealand and has always been acknowledged as an acceptable way to contribute to their community."

Allan said in a statement on Friday evening that all donations she's received "have been accurately and appropriately reported as required by the Electoral Act, and have been publicly available online since 2021". 

"This afternoon I've also updated my conflict of interest information on this matter to provide absolute transparency, which now includes both Meng Foon and Ying Foon, as perceived conflicts of interests.

"I'm confident there haven't been any decisions I've been involved in where this conflict would need to have been managed."

She said the office space she received a rental subsidy for "was a campaign office, not an electorate office, and no parliamentary funds were used".

The ACT Party's David Seymour said Foon needs to go immediately.

"Foon can't be independent if he's a Labour donor, not that he ever called out racism from the left anyway," Seymour said.

"Kiri Allan is now the Minister of Justice responsible for appointing the Commissioner. She didn't appoint Foon but would be responsible for his re-appointment."