Department of PM and Cabinet responds amid feud between David Seymour and Government-funded centre director over 'death cult' comments

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) has responded following a public feud between a Government-funded anti-extremism centre director and ACT leader David Seymour.

Joanna Kidman, who is a director of He Whenua Taurikura - New Zealand’s National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism at Victoria University in Wellington, has lashed out at the Government over its military-style boot camps for young offenders and plans to scrap free school lunches.

In posts on X, formerly Twitter, that have now been removed from the public eye, Prof Kidman asked, "is this a Government or a death cult"?

"I can only assume that this Government hates children, most of whom will be poor and brown. Plus, it wants to snatch children's lunches," she wrote.

Prof Kidman slammed the planned boot camps, saying they don't work and are expensive.

According to the NZ Herald, Seymour replied on X: "Some interesting views from a Jacinda Ardern and Labour appointee."

In response, ACT public service spokesman Todd Stephenson called for Prof Kidman to be fired.

"Dr Kidman's salary is paid by taxpayers via the Prime Minister's department, which means Christopher Luxon has just been delivered some potential savings on a silver platter. The board of the centre must move immediately to sack the extremist in their midst," Stephenson said.

"The irony of an anti-extremism campaigner using such extreme rhetoric should be obvious.

"While ACT supports her right to spew deranged garbage as a private citizen, she shouldn't be doing it on the taxpayer dollar and certainly not with the borrowed credibility of the Prime Minister's department."

In response to Prof Kidman's comments, the DPMC has "conveyed to the university... Professor Kidman's comments may bring the centre into disrepute", National Security Group executive director Bridget White told Newshub.

The centre was established following the March 15 terrorist attack in Christchurch, in response to recommendation 14 of the Royal Commission of Inquiry report on the attack to "establish a programme to fund independent New Zealand-specific research on the causes of, and measures to prevent, violent extremism and terrorism".

White said the DPMC funds the centre through a charitable trust, which operates independently.

"The centre is not a Government agency. Funding for the centre for [the[ year ending June 2024 was $1.325 million."

Meanwhile, Victoria University of Wellington deputy vice-chancellor for research Margaret Hyland told Newshub the university was discussing the matter with Prof Kidman.

"Some of the language used in Professor Kidman's social media post does not support an inclusive conversation.

"Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington supports the right of academics to have an independent voice and to speak out on issues related to their area of expertise.

"We endorse reasoned debate that brings evidence and scrutiny to issues, to increase public understanding," Prof Hyland said.

Prof Kidman and the centre have also been approached for comment.