NZ Govt Cuts Increase Risk of Extremist Content, Scams, Harm

One in five frontline workers axed from Digital Safety and Anti-Money Laundering groups

The Government has agreed deep cuts to the specialist digital safety and anti-money laundering teams that protect New Zealanders from online harm, scams and other crime despite warnings about the dire consequences for children.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) today announced final decisions for the Regulation and Policy branch with 76 roles axed as part of spending cuts of 7% demanded by the Government.

Around one in five roles are going at the Digital Safety and Anti-Money Laundering groups - a net loss of 22 roles across both groups.

"This is reckless and disturbing, and more Kiwis will be scammed, exposed to violent extremism and sexual exploitation at a time of rising harm online. It makes no sense," said Fleur Fitzsimons, Assistant Secretary for the Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi.

"These are workers at the very frontline of protecting New Zealanders from online harm and international crime syndicates. This is yet another clear example of frontline workers being sacrificed for an ideological obsession with small government.

"How can this be evidence-based policy when all the evidence shows this harm is rising and becoming more sophisticated with the explosion of AI? The Minister of Internal Affairs knows this - DIA advised her so in November, stating;

'The Department's Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System has blocked 4.6 million views of child exploitation in the last five years. The Department received 238,000 reports of potential scams to our 7726 unsolicited TXT message service in 2022/23, which is about ninety times more than received in 2019/20.'

"We all want a digital world which is safer for our children, but clearly the Minister is OK with decimating our defences. These changes were first proposed in late April, she's had nearly two months to stop this, but has chosen not to. And she's ignored the alarm expressed by experts including the Online Safety Coalition that these cuts are dangerous.

"The Government has said all Ministers went through spending cuts 'line by line' so the Minister of Internal Affairs must know what is happening here.' This is a price she seems willing to pay to fund tax cuts.

"The Minister told media recently she expected the Digital Safety team to maintain the same level of service with the available resourcing. Who is she fooling?

"Workers left behind will shoulder increasing responsibilities and risks will rise that those wanting to exploit New Zealanders will get through our weakened protections."

The Government is also downsizing the Anti Money Laundering Directorate. The team works with overseas counterparts and supervises more than 5,000 financial institutions and other non-financial businesses and professions to ensure they comply with measures to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.

"It's part of our international obligations to take money laundering seriously. It's not just New Zealand's criminal underworld, but international drug rings, gangs, and terrorists who rely on money laundering to finance their activities.

"The rest of the world is investing more in protecting their physical and online borders from rising threats, including more sophisticated cyber terrorism and online scams, yet this Government is blindly going in the wrong direction and exposing New Zealanders to more risk. It's just wrong.

"All this again shows how poorly thought through the Government's spending cuts have been and New Zealanders will pay a high price for the mistakes it is making," said Fleur Fitzsimons.

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