8 Apr 2024

Government sets nine targets in health, crime, social support, education, climate

5:30 pm on 8 April 2024
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon at post-cab

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has announced nine targets for the government to deliver in the next six years.

The targets include:

  • Emergency Departments: 95 percent of ED patients admitted, discharged or transferred within six hours
  • Elective treatment: 95 percent of people waiting less than four months
  • Child and youth offending: 15 percent reduction in total children with serious and persistent offending (by 2029)
  • Violent crime: 20,000 fewer victims of assault, robbery or sexual assault (by 2029)
  • Jobseeker benefit: 50,000 fewer people on jobseeker benefit
  • Student attendance: 80 percent of students present for 90 percent of term
  • Student achievement: 80 percent of Y8 students at or above expected reading, writing and maths curriculum level (by Dec 2030)
  • Emergency housing: 75 percent reduction in households in emergency housing
  • Greenhouse gas: No more than 290 megatonnes emitted in 2022 to 2025 (four years), and 305 from 2026 to 2030 (five years)

The government's media release stated the targets were to be achieved by 2030, although some had more specific timeframes - including a December 2030 deadline for the student achievement target.

Accompanying documentation also set out the surveys and other research that would be used to measure progress.

The two health targets were also among five Luxon announced alongside Health Minister Shane Reti last month.

Each target is assigned to a government minister and agency to oversee, working as appropriate with other ministers and ministries, with progress reports to be publicly released every quarter.

In a statement, Luxon said the government was "under no illusion about the scale of the challenges we face as a country".

"Despite the hard work of frontline staff like police, nurses and teachers, New Zealand has gone backwards in recent years," he said. "That's why our government is bringing back public service targets, to focus our public sector on driving better results for New Zealanders in health, education, law and order, work, housing, and the environment."

He said the targets were "deliberately ambitious".

"They will be challenging and require the public sector to think differently, dig deeply into root causes, learn from other places, and be innovative and disciplined in directing resources to where they will have the greatest impact on outcomes."

The targets were arrived at after conversations with the various ministers over the last couple of months, Luxon said, but "when you look at them they are all very ambitious".

"Enough is enough, the excuses have to stop, we've got to march the show forward with a bit of ambition."

He defended the Jobseeker benefit reduction of 50,000 people in the next six years - on a benefit which increased by 70,000 in the last six years - saying it was "a pretty good go".

He clarified it would include "total jobseeker beneficiaries" including people on the jobseeker benefit because of a health considition or disability that affected their ability to work - including those working reduced hours.

He said the government wanted young people who were on that benefit to be in work.

"They may want to do part-time work ... [or] more programmes in preparation for work. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to get them off welfare and into work, where we think there's a much better future for them and their families."

He said it was better to use money that had been pegged for supporting people on welfare "and surge it and do social investment properly so we can actually get people set up for success".

He also defended the youth offending target, saying while he was not comfortable with having 900 young recidivist offenders - a drop from the current 1100 - "I want to start somewhere, knowing how difficult it's been and knowing what's happened over recent years".

Asked if that was ambitious, he said: "It may not be to you, but given the scope of the problem that we've got" it was a good starting place.

"I just say to you, we have had a major challenge around ram raids, around youth offending ... we have to get on top of that really quickly and as fast as we possibly can ... if we can overdeliver it, overachieve it, set a new one, I'd be very happy to set a new one there."

He did not commit to resigning if the government did not achieve the targets - which are two Parliamentary terms away from coming due - but said he took "ultimate responsibility" and the New Zealand public would have their say every three years.

The targets were signalled in the coalition's 36-point second quarterly plan unveiled last week.

John Key's National government introduced 10 targets in 2012, aiming for cross-agency collaboration involving multiple ministers and ministries.

Those targets aimed for percentage reductions in rheumatic fever, crime rates, assaults on children, and the number of people on a benefit; percentage increases to infant immunisation rates, early childhood education participation, and NCEA and tertiary qualifications; and more online interaction with government services.

They were redesigned by Sir Bill English in 2017 - including shifting some to a flat number rather than percentages - but were scrapped by the Labour government a year later.

Public policy academic Jonathan Boston last week told RNZ they had been effective at achieving better outcomes, but it could sometimes come at the expense of non-targeted areas.

The Public Service Association union's national secretary Kerry Davies also warned that if the targets were too narrowly focused they could lead to unintended or perverse outcomes.

The targets also come alongside the government's promised cuts to the public sector, with the Ministry for the Environment the latest to call for voluntary redundancies.

Crown entity Callaghan Innovation has also announced about 30 full-time equivalent roles could be cut with final decisions expected in May or June.

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