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Luxon says Police Minister wrong on police training timeframe

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Wed, 31 Jan 2024, 9:37AM
Police Minister Mark Mitchell initially denied the policy had been changed. Photo / Laura Smith
Police Minister Mark Mitchell initially denied the policy had been changed. Photo / Laura Smith

Luxon says Police Minister wrong on police training timeframe

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Wed, 31 Jan 2024, 9:37AM

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has admitted his Police Minister got it wrong yesterday when he stated the Government’s commitment to train an extra 500 police officers couldn’t be delivered in the two years as agreed between National and New Zealand First. 

Luxon confirmed the original promise was still in place in what was a somewhat-confusing flip-flop in light of a Newsroom report yesterday that claimed all three coalition partners had agreed in December to extend the timeframe the new officers would be delivered in to three years. 

Luxon, talking to Newstalk ZB this morning, said Mark Mitchell’s statements yesterday in the House were incorrect. 

“Mark could have expressed himself better.” 

National leader Christopher Luxon, Act leader David Seymour, and NZ First leader Winston Peters agree to their coalition documents. Photo / Mark MitchellNational leader Christopher Luxon, Act leader David Seymour, and NZ First leader Winston Peters agree to their coalition documents. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Speaking to Newstalk ZB after Luxon, Mitchell admitted: “The boss is 100 per cent right, I got it wrong yesterday.” 

He said the Government remained “fully committed” to the two-year timeframe and attempted to explain his comments yesterday by saying he got “too wrapped up talking about the challenges” police faced regarding recruitment. 

Mitchell said he recently attended a police graduation that was only half-full, but cited good work being done in Gisborne to attract new recruits, and hoped that work could be replicated nationwide. 

Labour police spokeswoman Ginny Andersen, appearing on ZB alongside Mitchell, said the flip-flop was an “absolute circus” and indicated a “lack of communication” within National and between the coalition partners. 

Mitchell replied by emphasising his priority on being “honest and up front” about recruitment challenges. 

NZ First leader and Deputy PM Winston Peters told RNZ this morning discussions occurred between the coalition parties’ chiefs of staff overnight and reaffirmed the original deadline. 

“We have not given up on this target.” 

Luxon, speaking later on RNZ, confirmed there were “conversations” following Mitchell’s remarks, including a conversation with Mitchell. 

However, Luxon claimed he hadn’t been party to any conversations about extending the deadline prior to yesterday. 

The coalition agreement between National and New Zealand First included a commitment to training “no fewer than 500 new frontline police within the first two years”. Late last year, Mitchell said the 500 officers would be a net addition to the workforce. 

Yesterday, Andersen accused the Government of prioritising tax cuts over resourcing police after Mitchell said the promise of 500 new officers will be realised in three years, not two. 

When asked in the House by Andersen to confirm this, Mitchell said the Government’s policy was to “deliver 500 additional police officers over the term of this Government, which is three years ...”. 

When Andersen asked whether this was confirmation the Government was walking back on its promise, Mitchell denied it before claiming he had previously spoken to the issue when discussing the recruitment challenges faced by police thanks in part to a section of the workforce getting ready to retire and targeted campaigns to recruit New Zealand officers coming from Australia. 

Speaking to TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning, Luxon said Mitchell had muddled his words. 

“We want to deliver 500 police in two years, but Mark is talking about the difficulty around that, but we’re not backing down,” he said. 

“We know it’s challenging, we’re going to do everything we can do to get that done.” 

He said he was in regular conversation with Mitchell and nothing had changed about the timeline for delivery. 

Former Police Minister Ginny Andersen claims the public spending cuts have changed the policy. Photo / Mike ScottFormer Police Minister Ginny Andersen claims the public spending cuts have changed the policy. Photo / Mike Scott 

In a statement, Andersen claimed the backdown indicated the proposed 6.5-7.5 per cent back-office spending cuts in the public service had led to the change in policy. 

“This is yet another broken promise that makes a mockery of Mark Mitchell’s claim that he will restore law and order,” she said. 

“Only in December, Mark Mitchell ‘absolutely guaranteed’ that there would be no cuts or reprioritisations to the police budget in order to deliver on the promise of 500 more frontline police in two years. Two months later the Minister of Police is desperately backtracking. 

“National needs to be straight up with New Zealanders about what these promised tax cuts are actually going to cost us.” 

She argued Mitchell, a former police officer, would have known the extent of the recruitment challenges and should have constructed the policy accordingly. 

Even with the policy extended to three years, Andersen questioned whether that would be achievable given the difficulty police were having attracting new recruits. 

The Herald is waiting for a response from Mitchell. Finance Minister Nicola Willis had also been contacted for comment. 

Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime. 

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