The Government tripled a Budget bid to $33.5m to stop boat people reaching New Zealand despite Treasury warning there was no evidence that the risk of mass arrivals had increased.
The funding boost followed a "strong steer" from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, revealed in a tranche of documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.
The immigration division of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) had originally asked for $11.3m over four years for "maritime mass arrival prevention", but the bid was boosted in February to $33.5m following feedback from Ministers.
On February 10, head of Immigration NZ Greg Patchell emailed his MBIE colleagues: "Given the [redacted] the PM and MoI's (Minister of Immigration's) strong steer on 'not understating Budget 2019 for Mass Arrivals' we probably need to revisit, forthwith, the current bid."
This was followed up by an email the following day from MBIE manager Brent Matthews, who had spoken with Immigration NZ general manager K-J Dillon.
"There seems to be a view high up in political circles that we may be under funding our mass arrivals budget bid and there is a desire for us to up it [redacted]," Matthews wrote.
The bid was then hurriedly boosted in the following two weeks, going from two to six extra offshore liaison officers, substantial increases in annual funding to disrupt people-smuggling ventures, and additional onshore staff including six intelligence analysts and a senior investigator.
Lees-Galloway signed off on the revised bid, and in the end Budget 2019 set aside $25 million over four years.
Ardern said on Budget Day that the money was aimed at stopping boats before they had a chance to depart on their dangerous journeys.
A spokesman for Ardern said that this was an area that had been underfunded for years and this year's Budget bid was an attempt to rectify that.
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MBIE referred questions to Lees-Galloway, who did not address why a request was made to increase the Budget bid, nor whether there had been any intelligence to suggest New Zealand was more vulnerable as a people-smuggling destination.
In a statement, he said people-smuggling was of increasing concern both internationally and regionally.
"We discussed a number of options and decided the final bid was best."
It was approved despite objections from the Treasury, which said that there was no evidence that the risk of boat people reaching New Zealand had increased, or that the current system was inadequate.
MBIE officials responded by saying the funding would plug the gaps in the current system, though details about those gaps were redacted in the documents.
The Treasury added that the Budget bid did not align with any of the Budget's well-being priorities, but Lees-Galloway said on Budget Day that it was about keeping people safe.
Lees-Galloway has defended the funding by saying there was a credible and increasing risk of people-smugglers targeting New Zealand, even though no boat people had ever successfully made the journey.
But Green Party co-leader James Shaw disagreed, telling reporters on Budget Day: "We don't think there's any great risk of mass arrivals in New Zealand ... We think that money would be better spent elsewhere."
The Budget bid was also given a high priority than other immigration Budget bids, many of which had stalled or made little progress.
"This is likely to put extreme pressure on [Immigration NZ] and also introduce risk," Immigration NZ general manager Stephen Dunstan said in an email in April.
"From an immigration point of view, there has been some scaling and some bids did not progress at all."
In the release of documents, MBIE officials noted that distance to New Zealand and perilous waters made a boat arrival less likely, but "distance is not enough to prevent ventures from succeeding".
They noted that Canada has had two boat arrivals from southern Asia and South East Asia in 2009 and 2010, and a successful attempt to reach New Zealand could lead to further attempts, which had happened to Australia and Canada.
A successful attempt would also require a costly all-of-Government response over many years - the cost of which would be significant, but hard to quantify - put the spotlight on New Zealand's reputation, and impact New Zealand's ability to deliver its refugee and other humanitarian programmes.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was very supportive of the bid, though an Mfat official added that "as with everything, the devil is in the detail!"
Last year Australia's then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton criticised New Zealand for relying too much on Australia's "heavy lifting" to tackle the issue of boat people.
While the extra money is likely to please Australia, Lees-Galloway has said the decision was entirely New Zealand's.
A few months into her term as Prime Minister, Ardern fended off suggestions that her stance on the Manus Island asylum seekers had made New Zealand a soft target for boat people.
Ardern had repeatedly pushed Australia to take up a long standing offer for New Zealand to take 150 refugees from Australia's asylum-seeker centres, which Australia has repeatedly declined.