15 Mar 2024

Coalition government falling short on mosque attack anniversary - Islamic council

6:46 pm on 15 March 2024
Worshippers - including those from the Linwood Islamic Centre - gathering for Jumu'ah at Masjid Annur, five years on from the March 15 terror attacks.

Worshippers - including those from the Linwood Islamic Centre - gathering for Jumu'ah at Masjid Annur, five years on from the March 15 terror attacks. Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

The government has largely failed in meeting its promise to make Aotearoa safer for Muslims, the Islamic Women's Council national co-ordinator Aliya Danzeisen says.

In the wake of the 2019 Christchurch terror attack, the then-Labour government promised Canterbury and Aotearoa's Muslim communities there would be changes to law, life and society to ensure they were safer.

But five years on some Muslims feel less safe.

Following the murder of 51 worshippers at Masjid Annur and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch on 15 March 2019, then-Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern promised there would be change.

"No question that we need to have a comprehensive response to the range of issues and questions that this has raised for us," she said, soon after the shootings.

And the government did deliver on its promise to tighten gun laws rapidly in response to the tragedy with semi-automatic centrefire rifles taken out of the hands of the general public with an amnesty and buyback implemented.

But almost two years later, Dame Jacinda vowed to follow through on the 44 recommendations put forward following a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

"We owe it to all those involved in the Royal Commission to make sure that we do follow through on its findings," she told RNZ in December 2020.

So far about half have been implemented.

But Danzeisen said key matters like reforming hate speech laws and the establishment of a new national intelligence and security agency had stalled.

Aliya Danzeisen, Assistant Co-ordinator of the Islamic Women's Council

Islamic Women's Council national co-ordinator Aliya Danzeisen. Photo: RNZ / Luke McPake

"If you're looking at what failed, the only difference is in the firearms space," Danzeisen said.

"In the sense of the failings of the system, which was a security failure and a failure to support communities long-term, those frameworks haven't changed."

Christchurch-based Labour MP Megan Woods, who was a senior minister at the time of the mosque attack, defended the previous government's record.

"No one's pretending this is easy work. No one's pretending we got everything 100 percent right. But I think one of the things we did do was talk to and work with communities on the ground in Christchurch all the way through."

Labour's Megan Woods arrives at Wellington Airport on 16 October 2023 following the election at the weekend.

Labour MP Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She accepted the Labour government parked hate speech law reform, though she preferred the term paused.

But that decision was not due to political expediency, Woods said.

"Our concerns were about the ramifications of hatred being pushed back on to the communities we were trying to protect from just that."

Woods said she was most proud of the rapid change to the country's gun laws and found it inexplicable that it was being relitigated by the coalition government.

Danzeisen agreed.

"The terrorist cost New Zealand more than two billion dollars for an act that took just over 20 minutes.

"But one of the key things is he would not have been able to kill so many with other types of weapons so quickly and do so much damage. And these weapons, there is no purpose for a semi-automatic other than to kill."

National's coalition partner ACT opposed all gun reforms following the terror attack, while National voted against the 2020 Arms Legislation Act, which created a firearm registry among other controls.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon would not be drawn earlier this week or today on whether loosening controls around centrefire semi-automatic rifles was possible.

In a statement, he said his government would ensure its learned from the 2019 terror attack and make the changes necessary to keep New Zealand safe.

"This Friday, the fifth anniversary of the horrific events of March 15, 2019, is a day to remember the 51 shuhada - the martyrs who were unjustly targeted for their beliefs - as well as those who were injured. We also stand with their families and friends," the statement said.

"The government is committed to the Royal Commission of Inquiry, with 23 of the 44 recommendations implemented or integrated into ongoing programmes.

"The remaining recommendations are being fully considered before final decisions are made, with an expectation that some will become embedded into the everyday work of government agencies.

"We will ensure we have learned from this tragedy, and from the ensuing Royal Commission of Inquiry, and made the changes necessary to keep New Zealand safe.

"The safety and security of New Zealanders remains our priority."

Danzeisen said Muslims, and particularly Muslim women, were now the focus of more hate than ever before.

"We're less than one percent of the New Zealand population but the police data shows Muslim women experience slightly over one-third of the daily hate going on in the nation."

The government promised a safer country in the wake of the mosque shootings, but Danzeisen said, broadly, it had failed to deliver on that promise.

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