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Live: Minister briefings - Concerns over gangs, high migration, mental health trauma after Covid

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 1 Feb 2024, 10:51AM
Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

Live: Minister briefings - Concerns over gangs, high migration, mental health trauma after Covid

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 1 Feb 2024, 10:51AM

Concerns over gangs, ram raids, migration numbers and disassociation from school following Covid-19 have been raised by government department officials in briefings to new ministers.

The Bims are produced by public servants after each change of government or change of minister and usually set out trouble spots and challenges looming in each portfolio area, some preliminary advice on government policy as well as a basic introduction to how the government department operates and the ministers’ responsibilities.

NZ Herald journalists are compiling the highlights of the briefings which were given to members of the National-Act-NZ First coalition and released on government department websites.




The new Government has been warned that funding will need to be found for the following programs, or they will stop:

-School lunch funding ends at the end of the 2024 academic year. It costs $330m a year.
-Funding for the Apprenticeship Boost Initiative finishes at the end of this academic year. To continue it will need about $90m annually.
-A 4 per cent increase in tertiary education subsidy rates for degree provision will end in 2026. To keep going, it will need $70m annually.

The Ministry of Education’s Bims cover early childhood education, primary and secondary, and tertiary.

”There are some significant pressures in the education fiscal environment that the Government will need to act quickly to manage,” the briefing warned.

”The current fiscal position in education is extremely tight, and there are multiple pressures on both the existing votes and on Budget 2024.”

Meanwhile the briefing noted that “a feature of the post-Covid environment, here and overseas, is high levels of disassociation from school and early learning, challenging behaviour and a marked increase in anxiety as well as more severe mental health trauma for young people.”

”Covid also led to a step-change in the use of distance learning technology, which can provide a basis for innovation in the future, but teachers have to adjust their pedagogies to teach in those media, compounding capacity issues.

”There are some big system shifts required, within schools and beyond, if the schooling system is able to respond to the significant social and economic shifts in a post-pandemic world.”

Other cost pressures include the need to keep pace with cost inflation, and changes in tertiary and early childhood student numbers.

The previous Labour Government in August 2023 asked the Ministry of Education to find almost $70m in permanent baseline savings each year, from 2024/25. However, the briefing states that an inability to make savings in areas like school property and capital and frontline education workers means the real saving requirement is not 2 per cent of departmental funding, “but closer to 15-17.5 per cent of the Ministry’s core expenditure, which is not likely to be possible without significant impact on our ability to deliver to our core role.”

”We will brief you further on options for meeting savings requirements, noting that, as the incoming Government, you also have policy priorities in relation to public service expenditure.”

- Nicholas Jones


Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has told Police Minister Mark Mitchell in his briefing that “more needs to be done” to curb blatant offending and the concerning rise in the visibility of gangs, ram raids, aggravated robberies and the “cohort of persistent young offenders”.

Coster stated the well-known fact police were attending more family harm and mental health-related callouts than ever before, which was straining a workforce facing recruitment pressures - something that was also making it difficult to staff areas including the East Coast and in the Far North.

Mitchell’s briefing outlined how global factors - technological advancement, transnational crime, geopolitical influence - combined with local factors - cost of living pressures, declined mental wellbeing, depravation, increased willingness to use firearms - to shape the policing environment.

While the briefing advised New Zealand society was still safe to live in, officials noted how feelings of safety “are often incongruent” with the reality of crime statistics.

”Like other public institutions, establishing and maintaining public trust and confidence in Police is getting harder.

”National’s law and order election campaign strategy centred around the claim New Zealanders no longer felt safe under the Labour Government. Mitchell has also staked his job on making Kiwis feel safer.

- Adam Pearse


The briefing to new Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell said the increase in the number of people on remand, i.e. those in prison awaiting trial or sentence, is creating challenges for the department.

”After a period of relative stability from July 2020 to July 2022 there has been a steady increase in the remand population,” the briefing said.

”Based on projections, and without interventions, it is likely that the remand population will continue to grow faster than the sentenced population. The high number and proportion of people on remand is significant and has created challenges for Corrections across multiple areas.

”Of the approximately 9000 people in prison, 43 percent are on remand, the briefing said. It said the length of time people spend on remand has also increased significantly.

”This follows an increase in the time it takes to resolve serious charges in the courts. As most people on remand are managed as high security, these changes are creating challenges for Corrections, such as additional staffing and infrastructure requirements.”

Since 2017, the number of people in the community on electronically monitored (EM) bail - an alternative to imprisonment while on remand awaiting sentence or trial - has increased from 495 in 2017 to 1743 in November last year, the briefing said.

”The particularly rapid growth of EM bail is creating resourcing pressures, complexities in assessing and managing risk, and making it more difficult to retain staff.”

The new 600-bed facility at Waikeria Prison near Te Awamutu is expected to be finished in November 2024, the briefing said. The facility includes a dedicated 96-bed mental health unit.

- George Block


The MBIE briefing notes to the Immigration Minister express concerns about the high net migration numbers New Zealand is experiencing post-Covid.

The provisional net migration gain of 118,800 for the year to September 2023 is the highest on record for an annual period.

“It is still unclear how much of this is catch-up, and what direction it may go in. Unless absorptive capacity keeps pace with population growth, then we will have increasing difficulty to take in more migrants and provide high-quality services to the locals. There can be tension where increased migration puts pressure on the absorptive capacity, but can provide the workforce needed to alleviate the pressure on absorptive capacity.”

- Lincoln Tan


Housing Minister Chris Bishop’s briefing from Kāinga Ora included a description of the benefits being derived from the new housing delivery system which allowed faster and more reliable planning and build times, reduced construction costs and improved performance through the build process.

Officials estimated the system would save about $820 million over four years. However, it did acknowledge the aim of providing stable homes - and therefore reducing cost to Government - was challenged by a “small proportion” of people who struggled to live well or behaved in a disruptive manner.

The briefing said Kāinga Ora had developed a new customer operating model to better support people’s needs and had used relocations and evictions through changes to the Residential Tenancy Act to mitigate the impact of the few on whole communities.

- Adam Pearse


In a briefing to Health Minister Shane Reti, he was told that the health system overall serves New Zealanders well and performed well by international standards.

However, there was much more work to do, including responding to workforce shortages, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and ageing populations - while also implementing major reforms.

Director-general of health Dr Diana Sarfati said the ministry’s priority was supporting the Government’s 100-day plan initiatives, including:

-Setting new health targets - including for wait times, immunisation rates and cancer treatment.
-Introducing legislation to disestablish the Māori Health Authority.
-Developing a programme of work towards a third medical school at the University of Waikato, including cost-benefit analysis
-Extending breast cancer screening
-Improving hospital emergency department security.

The ministry said it was also eager to explore some of the sector’s medium-term challenges. It identified several key challenges:

-Our population is growing, ageing, and diversifying, and our life expectancy has increased faster than our health expectancy (the time we spend in good health), so more people are spending longer dealing with chronic health challenges.
-Some New Zealanders experience avoidable health outcomes, particularly for Māori, Pacific peoples, disabled people, women, and those in lower-income households.
-Our ability to rapidly grow our workforce is limited in the short-term, so we need to balance our short- and medium-term investments to make improvements.
-Maintaining the quality of healthcare services in the face of rising costs and increasing need is a challenge, particularly following the global Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on health and economic conditions.

Officials also warned that this would be “a challenging period for the health system”, saying that wider economic uncertainty meant Government would need to carefully prioritise investment to ensure it targeted interventions to achieve the best outcomes.

- Isaac Davison

Media and communications

The future of traditional television broadcasting has been raised in the briefing document to Media and Communications Minister Melissa Lee.

”As the sector transitions online, companies will be required to consider the viability of ongoing investment in analogue broadcasting infrastructure,” says the Ministry for Culture and Heritage briefing document.

”It is likely that the Freeview Chief Executives (from TVNZ, Warner Bros. Discovery, RNZ and Whakaata Māori) will raise the future of traditional TV broadcasting with you. TV broadcasters pay a fee to Kordia (a government-owned firm), and the costs are increasingly unsustainable as competition increases from global streaming companies.

“The ongoing transition away from legacy transmission infrastructure continues to require careful management. Analogue radio and TV broadcasting still contribute to New Zealand’s resilience during natural disasters and towards equity of access for geographically isolated New Zealanders.”

The document outlines the sector’s big shift to a digital-first focus, but also the impact that the likes of global tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Netflix have on the industry.

”Digital products provide only a fraction of the revenue previously provided by traditional operating models. At the same time, the expense of maintaining those traditional models means broadcasters are now facing the prospect of switching off TV and radio AM services and moving exclusively to online streaming.

”There are opportunities to support both sector innovation and greater audience choice. The media and content production sectors are aware of the need to find funding from sources other than Government and are strong supporters of creating a more modern and streamlined system that encourages more effective investment.”

The briefing document paints a sobering picture of the New Zealand media industry’s financial challenges, citing TVNZ’s drop in profits from $59.2 million in 2020/21 to $1.7m in 2022/23 and a forecast loss of $15.6m this financial year.

It also outlines heavy losses for MediaWorks and Warner Bros. Discovery as well as NZME’s drop in profit in 2022. A line about another company has been redacted.

- Shayne Currie


It was well-forecast that agencies needed to make budget cuts but military leaders have told the new Minister of Defence Judith Collins it needs money.

Collins was told there was short-term and medium to long-term investment needed - first to stabilise NZDF and then to grow it. That means better pay and conditions for those who serve, and an upgrade of NZDF’s run #down real estate portfolio.

That’s against a back-drop - Collins was told - of increasing strategic competition in the region and an expectation of increasingly serious climate events. Despite those looming and serious issue, the briefing to Collins said “the most significant issue facing Defence right now is high levels of attrition and lower retention”.

High levels of attrition had slowed but were expected to continue for some time, she was told. The consequence, the briefing said, was the impact on NZDF’s ability to do the jobs government wanted it to do. Not only were experienced staff needed for those jobs, they were also required to introduce new equipment - such as the P8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft - and to train the next generation of service personnel.

In terms of scale, the Minister was told 30 per cent of uniformed personnel had left in 20 months to February 2023. In terms of numbers, the briefing said NZDF was 1300 uniformed personnel short. Its current numbers - based on an OIA release to the Herald - was around 8200 people in uniform.

There were a range of efforts to fix the problem, including increasing pay to bring 91 per cent of staff within 5 per cent of the market median and to review outdated benefits to compensate for military service, such as extended time at sea.

A snapshot of services showed attrition had impacted each: the Navy had three ships tied up; Army had “limited capacity” to respond to disaster or security events at scale and “very limited capacity” to deal with multiple events; Air force “has a number of capacity shortfalls”.

- David Fisher

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