Auditor-General's overview

Working in new ways to address family violence and sexual violence.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangarangatanga maha o te motu, tēnā koutou.

New Zealand has high and enduring rates of family violence and sexual violence. These affect hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders every year and contribute to poor economic, cultural, and social outcomes for some of New Zealand's most vulnerable and marginalised communities.1 Māori women, Pacific women, young women, women on a low income, LGBQTI+ people, women in gang-involved families, people with disabilities, and the elderly are at a higher risk of experiencing these forms of violence than other people.

Successive governments have invested significant public resources in trying to address these problems. In 2015, it was estimated that the Government spent more than $1.4 billion annually addressing the consequences of family violence. However, to date those efforts have not resulted in a sustained improvement in outcomes.

In September 2018, the Government announced the formation of the Joint Venture for Family Violence and Sexual Violence (the joint venture). At the time of our audit, the joint venture involved the Accident Compensation Corporation, the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Development, the New Zealand Police, Oranga Tamariki, Te Puni Kōkiri, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The joint venture is accountable for significantly reducing family violence and sexual violence. The agencies' chief executives are collectively responsible for improving the way government agencies work together to achieve this.

The joint venture approach involves new ministerial arrangements, new public service governance arrangements, and new ways for agencies to work – both together, and with Māori and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the family violence and sexual violence sector.

My staff carried out a performance audit to take an early look at this new way of working. This meant that any recommendations for improvement could be made early. Provisions in the Public Service Act 2020 also mean that joint ventures and other cross-agency arrangements are likely to become an increasingly common feature of how the public service works. I considered that there could also be lessons for similar arrangements in the future.

What we found

People working in and with the joint venture have considerable goodwill and a high degree of commitment to improving outcomes for those affected by family violence and sexual violence. There are examples of the joint venture approach working well to support agencies to collaborate and co-ordinate on shared problems. This includes producing whole-of-government Budget packages and responding to the greater risk of violence posed by Covid-19 lockdowns.

However, many people my staff interviewed said that the joint venture is not yet operating as effectively as it needs to. I agree. To date, the joint venture approach has resulted in only limited change to the way government agencies are working together.

To achieve transformational change, everyone involved, from Ministers to agency staff, needs to have a clear, shared understanding of what they are seeking to achieve, their respective roles and accountabilities, and what this means in practice. Those involved in the joint venture need to devote time and effort to achieving and maintaining the clarity of purpose, support, and cohesive effort needed to achieve this change.

Of particular concern to me is the joint venture's approach to working with Māori. In my view, the joint venture's partnership with Māori can be successful only when government agencies and the responsible Ministers are realistic and clear about what a partnership means. The joint venture needs also to agree with Māori on how that will work in practice.

Similarly, the joint venture needs to invest significant time and effort in building relationships with NGOs and other stakeholder groups in the family violence and sexual violence sector that will support the transformation that the joint venture is there to achieve.

The agencies involved also need to understand that resourcing the joint venture's work is core to their role. This includes committing their most knowledgeable staff to the work of the joint venture and considering their own work programmes in relation to the joint venture's priorities. Agencies and the responsible Ministers need to be clear about the joint venture's priorities in relation to the individual agencies' other activities and competing priorities and accountabilities.

I have seen early signs that work is under way to address the issues identified in this report. In particular, I have been told that the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and the joint venture are investing significant time and effort in developing the joint venture's relationship with Māori. The joint venture's Board is also working to clarify the role of the joint venture and to communicate this role to all the agencies involved.

What I recommend

The joint venture has been a challenge for all those involved, but it is the right challenge. I have made five recommendations to support the joint venture in achieving transformational change.

In my view, the joint venture cannot be approached as just another programme of work. The recent funding towards the joint venture announced in Budget 2021 is helpful, but money alone is not enough. To deliver the change that the joint venture was set up to achieve, all of those involved must have a shared purpose and clarity about their respective roles and accountabilities.

Sustained and urgent action is now required to realise the potential of the joint venture to improve the lives of New Zealanders affected by family violence and sexual violence. The joint venture is an important initiative to address this goal. I therefore intend to carry out further work to review its ongoing development and achievements.

I thank the joint venture's Board, the Director, and staff in the joint venture's business unit, the agencies, and NGOs in the family violence and sexual violence sector for their co-operation during our audit.

Nāku noa, nā

Signature - JR

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General

1 June 2021

1: Cabinet paper (April 2018), Breaking the inter-generational cycle of family violence and sexual violence, available at