Government's targets: 'Where is the action behind these?'

11:07 am on 29 April 2024

Editorial note: This article originally published on 9 April was amended on 16 April to clarify victims advocates are calling for more detail, rather than victim support groups

Labour MP Barbara Edmonds

Labour's Finance spokesperson Barbara Edmonds. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The opposition and a victims advocate are calling for more detail on how the government plans to achieve its nine targets.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon unveiled the government targets on Monday, saying they were "deliberately ambitious" and it was time for New Zealand to say "enough is enough, the excuses have to stop".

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Labour's Finance spokesperson Barbara Edmonds said there were steps missing in how the targets would be achieved, and with public sector cuts going on public servants were being set up to fail.

"Just because you have a target doesn't necessarily mean that the work is being resourced, and what we're seeing with this government is a cutting back of public services. Who's going to do the work?" she said.

She said government departments were already required to annually report their key performance indicators as agreed with ministers, but there was no detail around interim milestones across the six years, or detail on how they would be achieved.

"Where is the action behind these targets? That's missing... where are the targets for more social housing, where are the targets for more doctors, teachers and nurses?

"They are basically setting up the public service to fail because they're cutting investment in public service, they're cutting back the numbers, so who's going to be doing the work for them?"

Labour removed the previous National government's targets, saying they were arbitrary and being gamed to show achievement without making a real difference.

"Dr Reti himself has confirmed that there was some gaming of the system that happened," Edmonds said. "For example, you can discharge someone outside of the emergency ward within the six hours - but then if they're sitting in the corridor are they getting the results that they need? Are they getting the care that they need?"

"We all want reduced crime, youth offending, we all want our families out of hotels, we all want our children to be going to school - but actually the detail behind the targets, what's the action behind this, it's all missing."

She pointed to the target of reducing the number of people on a Jobseeker benefit by 50,000, which Luxon confirmed would include those on the benefit because of a disability or health condition.

She said it could "absolutely" mean people being pressured to go back into work before they were ready.

"My father had to go on the benefit to look after my mum when she was dying from cancer. What he needed was support from the government not, basically, the pressure to go back to work.

They need that support and that time to be able to do that because actually it takes pressure off the health system.

One of the targets was to reduce the number of victims of assault, robbery or sexual assault by 20,000 by 2029.

Victims advocate Ruth Money said targets were a good thing to set, but "it is the old 'you get what you measure', so I am concerned about what will be dropped in order to achieve this target".

"Police are already stretched, I have reservations as to how police will be able to achieve this. I have reservations in terms of the NGO sector, refuges, rehabilitation frontline services being able to cope with and rehabilitate that many people to stop perpetuating harm.

"Over the last five years we have seen over $72 million in five years go into the joint venture to stop family violence and sexual violence in New Zealand and nothing - absolutely no change - has happened at the front line. Sexual violence and family violence is an epidemic and it is increasing."

She also said a reduction of 20,000 over five years was not enough.

"Twenty thousand over five years is 4000 a year, so 300-ish a month. It doesn't seem like it's going to be a drop in the bucket compared to the number of victimisations that happen."

She said a six-week stopping violence course was "simply is not enough to change the behaviours of a lifetime" and what was needed was more rehabilitation, monitoring, and working really closely with people who harmed others.

"Sexual violence and family violence in particular, most of those crimes are happening and aren't disclosed. So they're happening behind closed doors and they're not being reported.

Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said the targets were a "wafer-thin user experience update to his shallow operating system".

"These nine targets come without a whiff of a plan and are deliberately geared to punish: he's talking about kicking people out of emergency housing and off of welfare, instead of any genuinely ambitious goal to support meaningful contributions in communities or improve housing security.

"When all it takes to meet your goals is punching down, you might want to re-evaluate those goals."

She pointed to the emissions targets as the same as those set up by the previous government and Climate Change Commission under the Emissions Budgets - which set out the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the government is legally required to cut from New Zealand's output to achieve internationally agreed goals.

"The problem is, they've gutted the pathway to get there by chopping public transport, walking and cycling, denser cities, the clean car discount, and are intent on pouring oil and gas on the climate crisis fire by reopening drilling and likely fast-tracking coal mining," Swarbrick said.

"The government's so far only meaningfully put their money where their mouth is on one thing: $2.9 billion for landlords. When someone tells you who they are, believe them."

ActionStation director Kassie Hartendorp said the targets to drive down the numbers of people on Jobseeker Support benefits and households in emergency housing were cruel, and would drive more people into poverty.

"It's nice to be able to say 'get 50,000 people off job support', but where are the 50,000 jobs that people are going to go to? It's not going to change the reality of what many people are facing, and in fact it will make people's lives objectively worse."

Hartendorp said the target of 75 percent fewer people in emergency housing should have included a target to building and buying more public housing.

"Moving people off a crucial support system without addressing the real issue is just going to mean more families on the street, in cars, without stable housing," she said.

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