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'I should have been clearer': Police Minister Mark Mitchell corrects record on recruitment target

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Police Minister Mark Mitchell has had to correct the record in Parliament, after saying it would take three years to recruit 500 new police officers.

National and New Zealand First's coalition agreement says the parties would "commit to training no fewer than 500 new frontline police within the first two years".

However, in Parliament on Tuesday, Mitchell changed the target.

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

Mitchell said he had been given advice that there were challenges around filling existing recruit wings, that Australians were in New Zealand to recruit police officers, and a number of senior officers were approaching retirement.

On Wednesday, Mitchell corrected himself in the House.

"I should have been clearer. The government's policy is to deliver 500 new police in the first two years of the term. I was reflecting the significant challenges that police face to drive that recruitment, but the government is firmly committed to delivering on this target," he told Parliament.

Before going into the House, Mitchell said nobody was throwing him under the bus, and denied Prime Minister Christopher Luxon had told him to change his position.

"No, not at all. He didn't ask me to change my position on it. He just asked me to make clear that our coalition agreement is still that we're going to deliver those 500 police officers. I said 'absolutely boss, I'll get out there and make clear that we're delivering the 500 in two years'."

Mitchell said a meeting between coalition partners in December was not to discuss changing the timeframe to three years.

"There was a meeting in December to highlight and talk about the challenges that we faced as the incoming government. Because it was obvious that there were massive issues around recruiting," he said.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins

Labour leader Chris Hipkins says it appears the coalition partners are not communicating with each other. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said National was not paying attention to what it signed up to when it signed the coalition agreement.

"It's an absolute shambles. I think the fact that there seems to be such constantly shifting ground as to what it is they're aiming for, and when it is they're aiming to deliver on it, I think it just shows that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing in this government," he said.

Hipkins said the government did not appear to be communicating with each other.

"The ground does seem to shift a lot when you're working with New Zealand First. That would be my experience."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the parties' chiefs of staff spoke overnight, but he was not in attendance. He said the parties were now reiterating the commitment.

"There was a mistake in the communication, I put it down to that. We're all on the same track here, we're all on the same page here. But we critically need to stop the attrition in police for a start," he said.

The prime minister said National and New Zealand First were united in meeting the two year commitment.

"Winston Peters and I are very clear about the goal. Mark Mitchell may have mixed messages a little bit yesterday, but he's very clear, we're all very clear, about what the goal is," Luxon said.

Labour has said it should not have taken Mitchell getting into government to realise the challenges around recruitment, but Mitchell said the only one he was aware of in opposition was the Australian recruitment drive.

"I had no idea and had no visibility on the fact that there was difficulty filling recruitments. As the minister I went to my second graduation last week, it was only half-full, the recruitment. I had no visibility at all on the age of our police force and the fact that we've got quite a few people coming up for retirement. So I found out all that information on the BIM [Briefing to the Incoming Minister]," Mitchell said.

ACT leader David Seymour backed Mitchell.

"So long as that was his genuine opinion at the time, then he can't be accused of misleading the House. So the question is, was that deliberate? I've known Mark Mitchell for about a decade, and I can't believe that he would have been deliberately misleading the House."

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