Internal Affairs is slashing the number of frontline staff who investigate the creation and distribution of child sex abuse material, the National Party claims.
But Internal Affairs says it needs more than just investigators to deal with harm in the digital environment and while investigations would continue to play an important role, new preventative approaches were needed to address online child exploitation imagery.
A leaked internal report details a shake-up of the department's regulatory services which will take effect in three weeks.
For example, the report shows Internal Affairs intended to close down its Christchurch office entirely, but in its final decision has cut the numbers from three senior staff to one senior investigator and one other investigator.
National's finance spokeswoman Amy Adams said Internal Affairs had cut the numbers of investigators from 15 to 10, despite official advice which said the number should be increased to 20.
"This appalling decision will leave more New Zealand victims unable to be identified and protected, and mean more New Zealand perpetrators remain free to ruin more lives," she said.
New Zealand would also fail to meet its international commitments under the Global Alliance Combatting the Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Online to reduce the number of new child pornography images uploaded and the number of victims identified, she said.
"One of my concerns is that there is one South Island office. That will have only one senior investigator in it, and that person is a male, which means that the entire South Island is left without a female investigator.
"If you're going to talk to a 6-year-old girl who has been sexually exploited online, best practice is you send a very trained woman to talk with her and the family," Adams said.
"Clearly what is happening here is that DIA is not getting the funding they need so they're robbing from Peter to pay Paul. That falls at the feet at the Government."
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) said it was creating a new directorate focused on digital safety.
"DIA has two small but effective units focused on investigating and enforcing compliance in Censorship Compliance (with a strong focus on digital child exploitation imagery) and Electronic Messaging (which focuses on nuisance commercial messaging)," a spokesperson said.
"The new Digital Safety Directorate brings these two units together within a new directorate and increases the support functions available for the DIA's digital safety work – including in censorship and electronic messaging."
There were currently 15 FTEs currently working in censorship and the new directorate would have 27.5 FTEs, including the censorship team.
The directorate would include intelligence specialists, technicians, and resources to bolster the department's approach to implementing new approaches to prevent crimes such as online child exploitation imagery, the spokesperson said.
"The department realises that it needs more than just investigators to deal with harm in the digital environment. While investigations will continue to play an important role, new preventative approaches are needed to address online child exploitation imagery."
DIA rejected Adams' claim about a lack of female representation in its Christchurch office, saying while the number was being reduced to two, there was a female investigator based in Christchurch.
It also said it was not a cost-saving exercise, with resourcing going into digital safety increasing, and no change in funding for the censorship work.