31 Jan 2024

Government sticking to goal of 500 police officers in two years - Luxon

10:18 am on 31 January 2024
Australian and New New Zealand Prime Ministers Anthony Albanese and Christopher Luxon meet in Sydney

Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is walking back comments made by the Police Minister about the timeframe it would take to recruit 500 extra officers.

On Tuesday, Mark Mitchell told the House the government would deliver 500 additional police officers over the term of this government, which is three years.

Yet, the government's coalition agreement with New Zealand First says the parties will deliver on that commitment within the first two years.

Luxon told Morning Report the minister mis-spoke.

"Mark could have expressed himself better. What he was talking to was some of the significant challenges police are certainly facing with respect to recruitment," Luxon said.

"But we're an ambitious government, we know it's hard, we know it's tough, we know it's challenging, but we're sticking with 500 police officers in two years."

He said he had not been a party to any discussions the target be moved to three years.

After Mitchell's remarks in Parliament, there had been discussions last night both with the minister and New Zealand First on the policy, Luxon said.

Asked if Mitchell would need to correct the record in Parliament, Luxon said it would be something that the government would "work through this [Wednesday] morning".

It was important that despite the challenges posed by the target the government would be sticking to it in order to restore law and order for the country, he said. It was also part of the coalition agreement and would not be changed.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters told Morning Report the parties' chiefs of staff spoke overnight and were now reiterating their commitment to train 500 new police officers in the next two years.

"We are trying to get our heads around what we were not told coming into this last election about the true state of affairs and the level of attrition and attraction of our police force to the Australian recruitment service.

"So we've got a problem here, but we're not giving up on it at all," he said.

"Our plan is to deliver on what we promised."

Mitchell released a statement on Wednesday morning, in which he said: "Our goal remains to deliver 500 more police officers in the first two years of this term of Parliament - as set out in the coalition agreement.

He said his remarks in Parliament reflected "the significant challenges that police face to drive that recruitment".

These included: high levels of attrition due to retirements, recruitment campaigns in Australia and the difficulty of "filling recruit wings".

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the situation was "a shambles" and "a bit humiliating" for the minister.

It seemed the minister had concluded the goal was unattainable, but the Prime Minister had ridden in over the top and decided: "We're going to do it anyway."

"This is a government that the left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing on a daily basis."

He said Mitchell had three hours to prepare for answering the question in Parliament on police numbers.

Mitchell's comments in Parliament

Police Minister Mark Mitchell

Under questioning in Parliament, Police Minister Mark Mitchell said the government's policy to deliver 500 more police officers was three years, the coalition agreement had stated it would happen within two years. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Earlier, RNZ had reported that the coalition agreement between National and New Zealand First said the parties would "commit to training no fewer than 500 new frontline police within the first two years" and this now seemed to have changed.

However, under questioning in Parliament on Tuesday, Mitchell pushed out the timeline.

"The government's policy is to deliver 500 additional police officers over the term of this government, which is three years," he said.

Labour's police spokesperson Ginny Andersen then accused the government of backtracking on one of its coalition promises.

"National's coalition agreement with New Zealand First promises 500 new frontline police within two years, and today Mark Mitchell has walked away from that. That's a concern for all those other promises that are outlined in the coalition agreement," she told RNZ.

Mitchell denied it was a walk-back, saying he had received advice in his Briefing to the Incoming Minister that there were issues around recruiting.

"We discovered that it was difficult to fill existing recruit wings, that the Australians are here recruiting our police officers, and that we've got lots of senior police officers that are coming up to retirement," he told Parliament.

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