2.1 Overview


We heard many times during our community engagement process of the importance of social cohesion. Many people told us that social cohesion was an ongoing process of developing those common values that are shared by New Zealanders, and equal opportunities. It was not about society becoming homogenous.


In this chapter we examine the government’s approach to social cohesion under the following headings:

  1. Political leadership and public discussion.
  2. Public sector leadership, coordination and strategy.
  3. Public sector-led community engagement.
  4. Public sector support for community capacity development.
  5. Community-led initiatives supporting social cohesion.
  6. Oversight and performance monitoring.


2.2 Political leadership and public discussion


In New Zealand, prime ministers and ministers rarely publicly discuss social cohesion and diversity issues. They seldom speak about the benefits of New Zealand’s changing demographics including ethnic and religious diversity and the related social benefits of social cohesion. Much of the limited discussion on New Zealand’s increasing ethnic diversity focuses on the economic reasons for, and consequences of, immigration and migrant labour.


Before 15 March 2019, there was no informed broader public discussion led by ministers about the benefits of the government efforts to build social cohesion or the roles that local government, civil society and community groups can have in bringing people together to build trust and confidence between communities and institutions.


2.3 Public sector leadership, coordination and strategy


We have examined Public sector leadership through both Public sector architecture and policies and programmes.


Central to our review of the Public sector social cohesion efforts is the Office of Ethnic Communities due to the role it played prior to 15 March 2019 in leading social cohesion initiatives, which we discuss here. The roles of other Public sector agencies in embracing diversity are discussed in chapter 3.


Office of Ethnic Communities


The Office of Ethnic Communities is the government’s principal advisor on ethnic communities. Originally established in 1992, its name and focus have evolved but it remains a business unit within the Department of Internal Affairs.


The Department of Internal Affairs is a comparatively large organisation and responsible to several ministers including those responsible for internal affairs, government digital services, local government, community and voluntary sector, racing and ministerial services.


The Office of Ethnic Communities provides information, advice and services to ethnic communities. Its mandate includes “migrants, former refugees, long-term settlers, and those born in New Zealand who identify their ethnicity as African, Asian, Continental European, Latin American and Middle Eastern”. We were told that it has no specific role in relation to religious communities, but it does engage with the ethnic groups that make up Muslim communities. One of its stated objectives is to influence the development and implementation of government policies to better meet the needs of ethnically diverse communities and ensure equity of opportunity and outcome.


The Office also administers the Ethnic Communities Development Fund of $520,000 per annum. The Fund was originally a programme called Settling In developed by the Ministry of Social Development in 2014 to assist refugees and migrant communities. Responsibility for Settling In was transferred to the Office of Ethnic Communities and it was re-branded as the Ethnic Communities Development Fund.


Before 15 March 2019, the Office of Ethnic Communities had 26 full-time equivalent positions spread across its three offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The Office of Ethnic Communities had three teams:

  1. Community Engagement – the team had nine full-time equivalent positions – one manager, and eight diversity and engagement advisors. Due to vacancies, it only had five diversity and engagement advisors to work across the more than 200 ethnic communities in New Zealand. These limited resources were focused on community capability development and funding small community projects and events. 
  2. Policy – the team had seven full-time equivalent positions. Its function was to influence the development and implementation of policy and service delivery to create better outcomes for ethnic communities and New Zealand as a whole.
  3. Planning, Systems and Services – the team had nine full-time equivalent positions. It provided administrative and procedural support, managed stakeholder engagement and managed and delivered some direct services including the Nominations Service and the Ethnic Communities Development Fund.


The Director of the Office of Ethnic Communities was a third tier role reporting to the Deputy Chief Executive, Policy, Regulation and Communities.


The Office of Ethnic Communities has been repeatedly recognised as underperforming. For example, a Department of Internal Affairs review of the Office of Ethnic Communities in 2014 was critical of the limited nature of its activities, stating that it did not provide leadership on diversity issues across the Public sector, its overall strategy was poorly explained and it concentrated too much on operational matters. The review recommended that the Office of Ethnic Communities develop a clear strategy to guide its activity and support effective leadership on diversity issues across the Public sector.23


In response to the review, the Office of Ethnic Communities was restructured in late 2014 to “improve the alignment of functionality and purpose and mitigate the challenges of leading a mix of operational, service delivery and policy functions”. The Department of Internal Affairs told us that “the restructure did not achieve the desired outcomes”.


Concerns about the Office of Ethnic Communities persisted. It was restructured again in 2016 to, among other things, build its policy capability, so that it could engage strategically with other Public sector agencies and better engage with ethnic communities.24


Before 15 March 2019 successive budget bids over a number of years to build capacity and capability of the Office of Ethnic Communities were turned down by the government of the day.


Social cohesion strategy and policy programme


Before 15 March 2019, no Public sector agency coordinated the overall policy approach or work programme relating to social cohesion, making it difficult to assess whether there were gaps in activities undertaken by government to build and maintain social cohesion. The Public sector’s decentralised approach to building social cohesion relies on the efforts within each agency. It was unclear which Public sector agency was responsible for the provision of coherent strategic advice on social cohesion at a whole-of-system level.


There was no overarching strategy that could be used to set the purpose and direct government policy and programme settings. Social cohesion had emerged in some Public sector agencies as a “rallying call for greater consideration to be given to [migrant] settlement outcomes and equity and, therefore social relations and trust”.25


Policy work was undertaken on social cohesion in New Zealand around 2005 and resulted in a Cabinet paper that has had limited influence. As Robin Peace and Paul Spoonley say:

It failed to survive in any coherent form, and it was not something that entered political, policy or public discourse as a serious policy priority.26


There have been further attempts to coordinate social cohesion programmes and strategies across government.


In 2015 Cabinet agreed to a social cohesion policy programme to lower the risk of violent extremism arising from “at-risk” communities. This was partly in response to a 2014 United Nations Security Council Resolution that focused on reducing recruitment to violent extremism and promoting social inclusion and cohesion.


In 2016 the Office of Ethnic Communities became the chair and leader of the newly formed cross-agency Community Strengthening Working Group. This group was intended to bring together, under the collective title Connecting with Communities, the community development activities of Immigration New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development and New Zealand Police. The working group was renamed the Social Cohesion Working Group in mid-2016. A 2016 Budget bid for $23 million over four years to support a social cohesion programme to drive research and community-led initiatives was not successful. The Social Cohesion Working Group was disbanded in 2017.


In early 2017 the Human Rights Commission, led by the then Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, met with the [Public] Service Commissioner Peter Hughes to raise concerns that Muslim communities had shared with the Human Rights Commission about a range of issues. These included harassment and bullying of Muslim children in school, concerns about the safety of Muslim communities in New Zealand, the negative portrayal of Muslim individuals and communities in the media, access to social workers, lack of culturally appropriate services for Muslim communities and lack of funding for Muslim projects.


In response, selected Muslim leaders from national representative groups were invited to present their concerns to senior officials at a cross-government workshop on 23 March 2017. The workshop was jointly led by the Human Rights Commission and the [Public] Service Commission. Notes were taken of the meeting by officials but not shared or confirmed with the Muslim leaders who attended.


The workshop resulted in the formation of a Social Cohesion Governance Group to address Muslim communities’ concerns and other issues related to social cohesion. The Social Cohesion Governance Group was made up of deputy chief executives and co-chaired by representatives from the Department of Internal Affairs (rather than the Office of Ethnic Communities) and the [Public] Service Commission. A new Social Cohesion Working Group co-chaired by representatives from the same agencies was also established to provide advice to the Governance Group. There was no opportunity for participation by communities on either the Social Cohesion Governance Group or the Working Group. Nor was there engagement with communities on the development of the terms of reference or work programme.


In June 2017 the Social Cohesion Governance Group agreed to pilot a project to engage with Muslim communities in Waikato which, if successful, could be replicated with other Muslim communities in New Zealand. This decision was made despite feedback from Muslim community leaders that the project was not needed for the Waikato region. Muslim community leaders suggested that their highest priority was the development of a national strategy but, if a pilot went ahead, it should be based in Auckland, where there was greater need.


Implementing the pilot project took longer than expected. This resulted in further frustration on the part of the Muslim communities involved, the Human Rights Commission and the Race Relations Commissioner.


By the end of October 2017 both the Social Cohesion Governance Group and the Working Group were suspended or defunct. A follow-up Department of Internal Affairs report to the [Public] Service Commissioner cited a number of reasons for lack of action including:

  1. The lack of a “high level story” that could bring together the social cohesion work of Public sector agencies.
  2. The definition of social cohesion was too broad, meaning that many programmes could qualify, which increased the difficulty of system-wide coordination.
  3. Social cohesion’s “awkward fit” with the counter-terrorism effort. Including social cohesion initiatives as part of work to counter violent extremism and terrorism presented problems. There was a difference between activities designed specifically to counter radicalisation (such as multi-agency intervention programmes like the Young Person’s Intervention Programme) and community-based activities designed to improve social cohesion (such as programmes working with refugee youth). It was felt that community-based social cohesion activities should be led by Public sector agencies in the social sector outside the countering violent extremism and terrorism effort, as they have much broader aims to improve communities’ wellbeing.


The social cohesion pilot in Waikato commenced in March 2018, despite not being supported by local Muslim communities or a national representative group. An Office of Ethnic Communities employee was seconded to Hamilton for six months to lead the project and to “engage Hamilton ethnic and Muslim communities to share their perspectives of ideas and challenges they face”. The results of the project would then be used to inform and influence government policy, ensure Public sector agencies’ services were fit for purpose and culturally appropriate and identify practical solutions that were adaptable to various ethnic communities. To do this the Office of Ethnic Communities employee held interviews and group meetings with members of Hamilton’s ethnic communities between March and September 2018.


The key findings from the pilot were that “local Hamilton ethnic and Muslim communities face challenges settling in New Zealand and there is a need for Public sector agencies to understand past experiences and lifestyles of migrants and refugees”. The report from the pilot made nine recommendations:

  1. Conduct and analyse a community survey to better understand the capacity development barriers, strengths and needs of ethnic communities.
  2. Support the capacity development needs and interests of organisations representing ethnic communities.
  3. Recognise ethnic community groups and their religious organisations as social connectors.
  4. Support communities to determine their own solutions to community issues.
  5. Prioritise investment in capacity development of ethnic communities.
  6. Develop closer relationships with tangata whenua and potential employers (for example, businesses) to identify career opportunities.
  7. Identify what skills employers are looking for and work with students to develop these skills and address any barriers to employment.
  8. Explore developing a cultural responsiveness framework for ethnic communities.
  9. Focus on building on community strengths rather than on addressing community deficits, for policy development purposes.27


The Department of Internal Affairs told us that it has not yet completed implementing the recommendations arising from the pilot.


In the meantime, in May 2018 Muslim leaders had formed a Muslim Community Advisory Group to try to gain greater traction on the concerns they had raised with the Public sector the previous year. After meeting with the Department of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Social Development and the [Public] Service Commission, the Muslim Community Advisory Group was asked to develop a business plan and budget to support their request for social worker resources to assist the community.


Initially no support was provided to the Muslim Community Advisory Group by Public sector agencies. Subsequently, the Ministry of Social Development provided assistance to draft a business plan after the Muslim Community Advisory Group raised concerns about the time pressures and demands on community leaders working in a voluntary capacity. The Ministry of Social Development provided the Muslim Community Advisory Group with a draft of the business plan in February 2019. The draft business plan was described to us as a “cut and paste” of the work communities had previously provided to Public sector agencies, which “added little substance”.


The Ministry of Social Development advised us that the business plan was not finalised prior to the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack and has not progressed further.


Government programmes contributing to social cohesion


Many Public sector agencies contribute to or lead policy and service delivery programmes that seek to improve social cohesion in New Zealand’s communities. Some government programmes include the following:

  1. The Welcoming Communities programme led by Immigration New Zealand. This supports local government, councils and their communities to create welcoming and inclusive environments for newcomers.
  2. The New Zealand Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy also led by Immigration New Zealand. It provides an all-of-government approach to settle and integrate recent migrants.
  3. The Language Assistance Services Project coordinated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. This is an all-of-government project to improve access to telephone interpreting and translation services for people with limited or no English language proficiency.
  4. The International Student Wellbeing Strategy led by the Ministry of Education. It provides a framework for Public sector agencies to coordinate efforts for international students, including funding for community organisations to support student wellbeing.
  5. A Youth Voice project led by the Ministry of Youth Development. It aims to build two-way communication between young people and Public sector agencies.
  6. The New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016–2026 and Disability Action Plan 2019–2023 led by the Ministry of Social Development. These are steps towards meeting New Zealand’s commitment to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  7. The National Psychological Plan led by the Ministry of Health. The intention is to support enhanced community cohesion and social support, involving the development of activities that promote social cohesion.


2.4 Public sector-led community engagement

Level of community engagement


Community engagement is important to inform Public sector policy development, service design and decision-making. Ultimately, effective community engagement can also build social cohesion and inclusion.


Transparency International New Zealand considers that Public sector agencies’ community engagement practices vary and that in some cases resulting policy or programmes did not adequately identify, understand or respond to the interests, risks and interdependencies that communities had raised. The cumulative impact of these issues is reflected in decreasing levels of confidence and trust in the ability of Public sector agencies to:

  1. understand the needs of ethnic and religious communities and treat their members competently and fairly; and
  2. develop responsive policies, services and programmes to enable communities to participate fully in New Zealand society.28


In 2018 the Open Government Partnership New Zealand National Action Plan 2018–2020 suggested that Public sector agencies have more work to do to improve the way they engage with communities:

To date the majority of consultation has been in the “inform and consult” part of the IAP2’s spectrum, involving relatively limited degrees of public participation that often occurs in the later stage of the policy development process. There are substantial opportunities to improve the degree of participation by the public, community organisations, businesses and employee groups in the development of policy and the design and delivery of government services. Improvements in public participation in recent years have been driven by agency-specific or sectoral policy agendas, demand from stakeholders and proactive action by key individuals at all levels. Across government, responsibilities related to public participation have evolved separately and are somewhat ad hoc.

The drive for improved public participation is part of a wider change in public management in which the traditional role of the citizen has already moved from “voter” to “customer”, and is now moving from “customer” to “co-creator”. Under this view, policy and services are designed with, rather than for, people, respecting their knowledge and beliefs, and their active role in their own lives and those of other New Zealanders.29


A May 2020 discussion paper reinforced the point that there is a significant opportunity to be gained from collaborating with communities, noting that “agencies must seek to co-produce policies, not simply to consult in an often-tokenistic way with communities and stakeholders”.30


We heard of variable community engagement practices by Public sector agencies, which are discussed further in Part 3: What communities told us.


Community engagement strategies


Some Public sector agencies have put in place community engagement strategies to encourage more inclusive consultation. For example, the Ministry of Health has issued A Guide to Community Engagement with People with Disabilities31 and Te Arawhiti has issued a Crown engagement with Māori framework, Guidelines for engagement with Māori, Crown engagement with Māori – Engagement Strategy Template and Crown engagement with Māori – Participant feedback form.32 Other Public sector agency community engagement strategies set out the general purpose and objectives of such engagement.


New Zealand Police have a unique role of engaging with New Zealand communities in ways that contribute to both social cohesion and the counter-terrorism effort. In examining their approach to community engagement, we focused particularly on New Zealand Police liaison officers’ roles and responsibilities, noting that this was one component of New Zealand Police’s community policing approach.


New Zealand Police liaison officers’ role in community engagement


In 2005 New Zealand Police published their strategy Working Together with Ethnic Communities – the Future. This was updated in 2019 and focuses on three objectives:

  1. Leading ethnic responsiveness – improving service delivery for ethnic communities.
  2. Building capability – having the right people with the right skills to work with ethnic communities.
  3. Working with ethnic communities – developing partnerships with ethnic communities to prevent crime and victimisation against them.33


To help achieve these goals, iwi liaison officers, Pacific liaison officers and ethnic liaison officers work with relevant communities to build and maintain effective working relationships.


The number of liaison officers within New Zealand Police is relatively small. Decisions about how New Zealand Police liaison officers are allocated are made by each District. By way of example as at 15 March 2019, of the approximately 10,000 New Zealand Police sworn officers there were 14 ethnic liaison officers including two at Police National Headquarters in advisory roles. We heard that in most Districts there was only one ethnic liaison officer for the entire District. This was the case in main centres such as Christchurch and Wellington despite the growth of the ethnic population in those cities.


Some liaison officers struggle to effectively reach all communities in their Districts. And we heard that it is not feasible for liaison officers to manage all community relationships. One liaison officer noted:

We are such a small part of the business, yet carry so much of it … Every member of Police should be a [liaison officer] and changing the mindset of our people is paramount to this.


Frontline police officers generally respond to incidents, for example engaging with a member of the public or community whose house has been burgled and who wishes to make a report to New Zealand Police. In contrast, liaison officers do not generally have an incident response role. One liaison officer we heard from said that “my role is long term solution based rather than responding to incidents”. Another liaison officer told us:

We proactively engage with ethnic communities to build the rapport and maintain the relationships with the ethnic communities. This sort of relationship can only be formed over a long period of engagement.


By building relationships with communities, liaison officers can help to identify concerns communities have and address any community safety issues collectively with communities. These concerns are not always crime related and can include anything that negatively impacts people’s perceptions of safety (such as disputes with neighbours) or creates conflict within or between communities. The role of a liaison officer goes beyond what would be considered standard policing. This can include:  

  1. explaining the role of New Zealand Police to new refugees;
  2. identifying issues affecting communities and creating initiatives to address these issues;
  3. liaising with other Public sector agencies (for example the Ministry of Social Development or Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities) when people need support from these agencies;
  4. providing support at community events to provide both the reassurance of a New Zealand Police presence and also an opportunity for community members to approach liaison officers with questions or concerns; and
  5. playing a mediator-like role to resolve lower level issues within communities, for example helping to resolve tensions between neighbours.


This means New Zealand Police liaison officers have a role in enabling social cohesion. The work done by liaison officers was noted favourably by those within New Zealand Police and in some communities who had engaged with them. However, we heard from some liaison officers about a number of challenges that impact on the effectiveness of their work:

  1. Their role is often not well integrated with the work of other parts of New Zealand Police and they can feel like they are working in isolation.
  2. There was a perception that the liaison officer role is sometimes not respected or considered to be a serious role within New Zealand Police. Liaison officers felt that this was due to the lack of awareness of the role, what it involves and the value it can add. As one liaison officer said, “in general [other New Zealand Police officers] have a pretty low opinion that we just go to dinners and lunches, that we’re not real cops [and] that it’s easy work”.
  3. There is a lack of clarity about their role within New Zealand Police. As one liaison officer noted, “some staff are unsure as to what our roles are other than assisting with translations”.
  4. There is a need for more organisational leadership to ensure that the role of the liaison officers is understood throughout the Districts.


As discussed in Part 8: Assessing the counter-terrorism effort, New Zealand Police’s counter-terrorism efforts are reliant on good community-Police relationships and liaison officers play a key role in this.


New Zealand Police also have community advisory boards and Māori, Pasifika and Ethnic Forums in which representatives of these communities meet with New Zealand Police management at District and national level.


2.5 Public sector support for community capacity development


We were told about the lack of capacity and capability in some ethnic and religious communities to participate in central and local government decision-making processes.


Community capacity development means promoting the ability of communities to develop, implement and sustain their own solutions to problems that affect them. The objective of community capacity development is empowering communities rather than achieving specific policy goals. It can contribute to improved social, economic and cultural outcomes at individual, whānau or community levels.


Central and local government support community capacity development. For example there is central government funding available for community capacity development, including the Ethnic Communities Development Fund (discussed earlier in this chapter), Community Capability and Resilience Fund, Community Leadership Fund, Safer Community Councils and Stronger Communities Action. During our engagement with communities, we heard concerns about eligibility for, and decision-making about, government funds such as these.


Two community initiatives, Peaceful Action Leadership Movement and Project Salam are funded as part of the Ministry of Social Development’s E Tū Whānau project. These two community initiatives bring together young people from a range of communities to develop leadership skills.


2.6 Community-led initiatives supporting social cohesion


Communities and community leaders play a pivotal role in building and maintaining social cohesion. This is especially true of community leaders, as they build a sense of identity and validate people’s collective understanding of shared social norms and experiences.34


A number of community-led organisations are leading discussions about social cohesion and what it means to be an inclusive society. Inclusive Aotearoa Collective (a collaboration of people across New Zealand committed to building a socially inclusive New Zealand),35 Migrant Action Trust (supporting migrants and refugees as valuable stakeholders in New Zealand society)36 and Southland Multicultural Council Incorporated (promoting social cohesion through alternative means and community resilience and recovery) are examples of these community-led initiatives.37


2.7  Oversight and performance monitoring


In December 2018, the Treasury introduced its Living Standards Framework to help analyse and measure how resilient New Zealand’s intergenerational wellbeing is in the face of change, shocks and unexpected events. The framework is intended to “strengthen the level of rigour and transparency in advice on the expected monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits of government policy proposals”.38 It is supported by the Living Standards Framework Dashboard measurement tool. The Dashboard measures a number of areas of wellbeing, including cultural identity and social connections.


A commitment by Public sector agencies to promoting these areas of wellbeing could benefit ethnic and religious communities. However, it is too soon to know the extent to which the Living Standards Framework is influencing the ways in which Public sector agencies design and implement their policies or interact with ethnic and religious communities.


Aside from the Living Standards Framework, we are not aware of other system-level monitoring of outcomes in relation to social cohesion that were in place before 15 March 2019.


2.8  Post-15 March 2019 developments

Increasing the Office of Ethnic Communities resourcing


Less than one month after the terrorist attack, on 12 April 2019 the Government announced a range of urgent measures to support ethnic communities by adding a one-off increase of $1 million into the Ethnic Communities Development Fund to “give affected communities the power to develop and lead their own projects alongside other Government initiatives”.39


The Office of Ethnic Communities also received funding ($800,000) for additional staff to provide better culturally appropriate support to victims of the terrorist attack and their families.40 At the same time the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Hon Jenny Salesa, announced a series of meetings across the country involving Imams, Muslim women and Muslim youth. The Minister said:

It is important for me to ensure our Muslim communities are involved and engaged in shaping the response to the terror attacks and the recovery process. These conversations will be complemented by a series of interfaith dialogues that will bring together leaders from different faiths to discuss how we can work collectively to support an inclusive society.41


The Government announced in the 2019 Wellbeing Budget that an additional $9.4 million would be provided over four years to the Office of Ethnic Communities. This funding was approved to increase capacity and capability at the Office of Ethnic Communities to respond to the impacts of the terrorist attack and to support ethnic communities to develop and lead their own initiatives.


Following this additional funding, the Office of Ethnic Communities increased its community engagement staffing to 21 full-time equivalent positions. The staff are located in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Napier, and Wellington, and will soon also be located in Dunedin, New Plymouth and Whangārei.


In September 2019, the reporting line of the Director of the Office of Ethnic Communities (renamed Executive Director in January 2020) was changed from the Deputy Chief Executive, Policy, Regulation and Communities at the Department of Internal Affairs to Paul James, Chief Executive, Department of Internal Affairs. The role became a second tier position.


In December 2019, the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Hon Jenny Salesa, announced a further increase in funding for the Ethnic Communities Development Fund from $520,000 to $4.2 million each year to support community initiatives that help build a stronger, safer, more connected and inclusive society. The Minister said:

With this funding boost the priorities of the fund are expanding to support groups to do more work; including and welcoming ethnic diversity; promoting ethnic diversity and understanding – including educating New Zealanders about the contribution of ethnic communities; developing participation in employment and society; and supporting our ethnic communities to thrive through the practice and celebration of culture.42


In early 2020, four regional interfaith dialogues were hosted by the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Hon Jenny Salesa, in Dunedin, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.


In June and July 2020, the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Hon Jenny Salesa, held thirteen meetings with approximately 250 Muslim women, youth, Imams and community leaders across the country. The purpose was to hear directly from Muslim communities about “what was critical to them, and what changes would help create a more diverse and accepting society”. The resulting report Conversations with Aotearoa New Zealand’s Muslim Communities presented the key themes from the hui and identified opportunities for addressing these themes through the government’s work programme.43


We did not examine the effectiveness of the engagement processes carried out following 15 March 2019.


Social inclusion Cabinet papers


After the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack, calls came from communities for the government to support social cohesion and communities around New Zealand.


In September 2019 the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, and Minister for Social Development, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, jointly presented a paper to Cabinet entitled Improving social inclusion post the 15 March terror attacks, which provided:

  1. An overview of a rapid evidence review about building social inclusion undertaken by officials drawing on advice from academics and stakeholders.
  2. A stocktake of Public sector agency work programmes and strategies covering children and youth, counter-terrorism, ethnic communities, education, employment, migrant settlement and integration and refugee settlement. Across the 11 agencies that provided information, it was identified that there are more than 160 programmes, policies and interventions that contribute to improving the social inclusion of New Zealand communities. These initiatives vary in size, sector and level of impact for New Zealanders, with some of these initiatives being small trials and others large scale interventions.


Cabinet agreed to:

  1. build on existing interventions to:
    1. reduce discrimination in New Zealand communities;
    2. show government and Public service leadership on social inclusion;
    3. support community-based activities that promote an inclusive national identity; and
    4. strengthen the focus on equity and social inclusion in priority work programmes.
  2. explore a small number of additional interventions with a strong focus on children and young people that could have a significant impact, including:
    1. building on existing knowledge of early childhood teachers to support young children developing capacities for self-regulation, resilience and social skills (including empathy);
    2. building on the Education/Justice focus area in the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy that aims to ensure children are free from racism and discrimination;
    3. expanding evidence-based bullying prevention and responses in schools; and
    4. increasing understanding of local and national history.


In June 2020, the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, and the Minister for Social Development, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, reported back to the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee on work to build social inclusion.


Cabinet noted that an indicative framework had been developed to build a common understanding, language, vision and outcomes for social inclusion across government, focus and better coordinate action, prioritise collective effort and support more coordinated approaches.


The aim of the framework is to build clear expectations that all social sector Public sector agencies would use the framework to help guide all work directly related to social inclusion, including policy and service development.


The Cabinet paper also noted that:

  1. officials will test the indicative framework with targeted stakeholder engagement to refine the draft social inclusion framework, with support from the Human Rights Commission;
  2. work is underway to scope possible measures and indicators of social inclusion, working with the Treasury and other agencies; and
  3. there may be opportunities to further join up government, local government, and non-government social inclusion work in the second half of 2020.


Cabinet agreed to include improving social inclusion as a goal for the government’s thinking and planning for post COVID-19 Recovery. It noted that progress had been made on the design and assessment of the four additional intervention areas identified in the September 2019 Cabinet paper but the associated Budget 2020 bids had been put on hold as the government works through its post COVID-19 priorities.


Both the September 2019 and June 2020 Cabinet papers on social inclusion were prepared without any engagement with communities, civil society, local government or the private sector. Only the Human Rights Commission had some involvement.


2.8 Concluding comments

A public discussion is required


Social cohesion remains an abstract term that is not well understood. As well it has become linked with ideas of assimilation. This is unfortunate. Social cohesion is an inclusive term that includes all of New Zealand’s communities, and is about respecting and discussing communities’ differences and developing some shared norms and experiences. We see social cohesion as enabling everyone to belong, participate and have confidence in public institutions. Public sector agencies are reluctant to talk about social cohesion as it has not been a government priority and even now government effort is focused on social inclusion, which is only one component of social cohesion.


Robin Peace and Paul Spoonley suggest that the move towards the concept of social inclusion is a “more transactional focus that foreshadowed waning political interest in the complexities of social cohesion”.44 It is easier to focus on a process and concrete activities rather than on a concept that is perceived to be challenging to understand like social cohesion.


Before 15 March 2019, there was no leadership and coordination of New Zealand’s approach to building social cohesion or social inclusion at either the ministerial or Public sector agency level. Initial action was taken in September 2019 by Cabinet to identify a responsible ministerial portfolio and Public sector agency to coordinate government action on social inclusion. By June 2020 this coordination of effort was starting to bear fruit with the development of an initial social inclusion framework and recognition that it would benefit from further targeted feedback from some stakeholders. Explicit agreement that social inclusion is to be included as a goal in the government’s thinking and planning for the post COVID-19 Recovery is also positive.


The limited nature of a national dialogue about social cohesion was raised with us by communities, domestic and international experts and our Muslim Community Reference Group. A consistent view was that there is a need for a broad public discussion on what it means, the benefits, how it relates to acknowledging and upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi and how it might be used to underpin policy development and service delivery.


It is difficult to see how such a discussion will occur if not led by ministers initially. As well, the input of communities, civil society, local government and the private sector will be vital to the success of the development of policies and programmes of work.


Data analysis and insights are required


Work is underway to explore measures and indicators of social inclusion. This work is being undertaken alongside other existing measurement frameworks, including the Living Standards Framework and others. Further data analysis and reporting are required in order to increase transparency, accountability and capability of Public sector agencies as the new social inclusion framework is refined, implemented and evaluated.


Public sector agencies must prioritise collecting relevant ethnic data on all of New Zealand’s communities and monitoring the impact of policies and programmes. Transparency International New Zealand note:

The executive’s accountability for the impact of policies is not well institutionalised. Project and programme evaluation occurs in some sectors, but the public management system does not demand that major policies be independently monitored and evaluated. This exposes the government and the public to the risk that policy failures are not recognised and corrected.45


More evaluation of the effectiveness of government policies and programmes is necessary. This will result in better informed decisions and ensure that the benefits of government policies and programmes can be shared equitably.46


Ineffectiveness of the Office of Ethnic Communities


The effectiveness of the Office of Ethnic Communities has been significantly hampered by its limited resources and consequently its performance has been unsatisfactory. By 15 March 2019, the resources of the Office of Ethnic Communities were run-down. Its influence, visibility and standing with communities and in the Public sector were constrained. Limited sector leadership was being exercised.


Some positive developments have occurred post 15 March 2019. The Office of Ethnic Communities' status within the Department of Internal Affairs has improved, with its Executive Director now reporting directly to the chief executive. An increase in resources has provided an opportunity for the Office of Ethnic Communities to improve its capacity and ability to work across the Public sector and with communities. The additional resourcing will not remedy all deficiencies and rebuilding of capacity and capability will take time.


The strategic fit of the functions of the Office of Ethnic Communities within the Department of Internal Affairs as a business unit is awkward. Some community organisations have asked for the Office of Ethnic Communities to be disestablished and for the functions to be exercised through a newly established Public service department, nominally referred to as the Ministry of Ethnic Communities. Our Muslim Community Reference Group preferred this approach.


The Office of Ethnic Communities policy function also needs to improve. The Public sector has a duty of stewardship to look ahead and provide advice about future challenges and opportunities New Zealand faces. It is the responsibility of a chief executive to steward their agency’s capability, and capacity to offer free and frank advice, which involves providing advice on emerging issues, vulnerabilities and opportunities for policy and service performance improvement.


The Office of Ethnic Communities should develop a data analytics capability – analysing data collected by the Public sector to identify the overall state of wellbeing for ethnic communities, the areas where the Public sector is performing well for ethnic communities, areas where improvements can be made and support for those improvements. Critical insights into where and how to direct Public sector efforts to increase ethnic communities’ wellbeing is required.


Community engagement practice needs to improve


Community engagement is important to inform policy development and design effective and equitable policies and services. Public sector agencies engage with communities in many ways and there are helpful national and international guidelines to assist Public sector agencies to design appropriate community engagement strategies and plans.


While Public sector agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort generally engage with individuals and communities from time to time, there appeared to be limited coherent community engagement strategies and plans in place (see Part 8: Assessing the counter-terrorism effort). In relation to Public sector agencies involved in social cohesion and social inclusion policies and programmes, we observed interaction at the agency level on specific policies and programmes with communities but did not examine the effectiveness of those engagements. As indicated earlier, we did however observe that communities were substantively involved in neither the design of the social cohesion programme initiated in 2017 nor the development of the September 2019 and June 2020 Cabinet papers.


There are substantial opportunities to significantly improve the depth and effectiveness of community engagement undertaken by Public sector agencies with communities, civil society, local government and the private sector in the development of policy and the design and delivery of government services. We make recommendations about social cohesion and inclusion in Part 10: Recommendations.


23. Department of Internal Affairs Office of Ethnic Affairs – Strategy Review, Report by MartinJenkins (2014).

24. Department of Internal Affairs Decision Document: Office of Ethnic Communities – Flourishing Ethnic Diversity, Thriving New Zealand (2016).

25. Robin Peace and Paul Spoonley “Social Cohesion and Cohesive Ties: Responses to Diversity”(2019) 45 New Zealand Population Review at page 110 https://population.org.nz/app/uploads/2019/12/NZPR-Vol-45_Peace-and-Spoonley.pdf.

26. Robin Peace and Paul Spoonley, footnote 25 above at page 110.

27. Office of Ethnic Communities Final Report – Hamilton Social Cohesion Pilot (2018).

28. Transparency International New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment - 2018 update (May 2019) https://www.transparency.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/National-Integrity-System-Assessment-2018-update-full-report.pdf.

29. Open Government Partnership New Zealand National Action Plan 2018–2020 (2018).

30. Paul Spoonley, Peter Gluckman, Anne Bardsley, Tracey McIntosh, Rangimarie Hunia, Sarb Johal and Richie Poulton, footnote 2 above.

31. Ministry of Health A Guide to Community Engagement with People with Disabilities (2017) https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/guide-community-engagement-people-disabilities.

32. Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations Crown engagement with Māori (undated) http://tearawhiti.govt.nz/tools-and-resources/crown-engagement-with-maori/; Te Arawhiti – The  Office for Māori Crown Relations Guidelines for engagement with Māori (2018) https://tearawhiti.govt.nz/assets/Maori-Crown-Relations-Roopu/6b46d994f8/Engagement-Guidelines-1-Oct-18.pdf; Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations Crown engagement with Māori – Engagement Strategy Template (undated) https://www.tearawhiti.govt.nz/assets/Tools-and-Resources/Crown-engagement-with-Maori-Engagement-strategy-template.pdf; Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations Crown engagement with Māori – Participant feedback form (undated) https://www.tearawhiti.govt.nz/assets/Tools-and-Resources/Crown-engagement-with-Maori-Participant-feedback-form-template.pdf.

33. New Zealand Police Working Together with Ethnic Communities – the future: Police Ethnic Strategy (2019) https://www.police.govt.nz/about-us/publication/working-together-ethnic-communities-future.

34. S Alexander Haslam, Stephen D Reicher and Michael J Plattow The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power (Psychology Press, Sussex and New York 2011).

35. Inclusive Aotearoa Collective website https://www.inclusiveaotearoa.nz

36. Migrant Action Trust Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/migrantactiontrust/.

37. Southland Multicultural Council Incorporated website https://www.southlandmulticultural.co.nz/.

38. The Treasury Our living standards framework (2020) https://www.treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/nz-economy/higher-living-standards/our-living-standards-framework.

39. New Zealand Government media release Responding to the needs of ethnic communities after terror attacks (12 April 2019) https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/responding-needs-ethnic-communities-after-terror-attacks.

40. New Zealand Government media release, footnote 39 above.

41. New Zealand Government media release, footnote 39 above.

42. New Zealand Government media release Government delivers funding boost for ethnic communities (6 December 2019) https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/government-delivers-funding-boost-ethnic-communities.

43. Office of Ethnic Communities Conversations with Aotearoa New Zealand’s Muslim Communities (2019). https://www.ethniccommunities.govt.nz/resources-2/conversations-with-aotearoa-new-zealands-muslim-communities/.

44. Robin Peace and Paul Spoonley “Social Cohesion and Cohesive Ties: Responses to Diversity”(2019) 45 New Zealand Population Review at page 111.

45. Transparency International New Zealand, footnote 28 above at page 135.

46. Ronald  Inglehart and Pippa Norris Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural backlash (Harvard Kennedy School Research Working Paper Series, 2016).