The Week in Politics: Counter-terrorism bill on the fast track and Spain saves a vaccine rollout slowdown

5:55 pm on 10 September 2021

Analysis - The government puts counter-terrorism legislation on the fast track after the Auckland attack, Spain sells New Zealand a quarter of a million extra doses of Pfizer vaccine and the Delta outbreak causes a re-think of the re-connection policy.

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A terror attack and Covid-19 have been a big part of the week for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government. Photo: Getty / AFP / 123RF / Stuff

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her deputy Grant Robertson spent the early part of this week explaining why the terrorist who stabbed six people in an Auckland supermarket wasn't behind bars and why he hadn't been deported.

Although Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen had been in court several times and had been held in jail over the possession of ISIS propaganda, current law didn't allow authorities to keep him there any longer.

A timeline of events on RNZ's website explains the exhaustive attempts, and why they failed.

As attention turned to stopping it happening again, the government decided to speed up the process of a bill already in Parliament which would have plugged the gap in the law if it had been passed earlier.

Samsudeen couldn't be charged under the Terrorism Suppression Act because planning to commit a terrorist attack is not an offence under current law. The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill fixes that and Ardern said she wanted it passed by the end of the month.

Robertson told Morning Report the bill was well progressed and the select committee dealing with it was close to completing its deliberations.

In Parliament Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the SIS and the GCSB, said there was a gap in the law.

"All agencies were doing all that could be done to protect New Zealanders and ultimately we were frustrated by the law dealing with terrorist activity as it currently stands," he said.

National's leader Judith Collins pledged her party's support for fast tracking the bill but ACT and the Greens were opposed.

ACT leader David Seymour called for caution. "If anything, the rushing should have been done earlier," he said. "It shouldn't be done for the purposes of political theatrics now the person who is the prime threat has been removed."

Greens' co-leader James Shaw held a similar attitude. "Unless the government knows of another clear and present danger that is likely to crystallise in the coming weeks, the use of urgency to rush through legislation should be opposed on the grounds that it is more important to get it right than it is to be seen to be doing something," he said.

Robertson acknowledged the importance of getting it right, explaining how much work had gone into the bill.

In an odd coincidence, the day before the attack Justice Minister Kris Faafoi had called the chair of the select committee to ask for the bill's process to be speeded up.

For the prime minister it was one crisis on top of another. She was already dealing with the Auckland outbreak of Covid-19 and had put the city into a Level 4 lockdown. On Monday it will find out when it will move down.

She had also been trying to get extra doses of Pfizer vaccine so the rollout could continue at its cracking pace, and on Thursday was able to announce success.

Spain had sold New Zealand a quarter of a million doses and they were on their way, she said.

"We expect to receive a total of 1.8 million doses from Pfizer throughout the month of September, in addition to the doses purchased from Spain. This means we don't have any plans to slow down the rollout," she said

Ardern thanked Spain's President Pedro Sanchez and acknowledged their relationship may have contributed to the speed with which the vaccine was secured. "It's fair to say though that there was some leader-to-leader engagement… I don't think that was necessarily determinative."

Although vaccines are being administered at close to 100,000 a day and the rollout could be completed in November, the Delta outbreak is having an impact on the government's plans to open up the border.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the plan to start reconnecting New Zealand with a gradual re-opening of the border from early next year would have to be reworked.

A core part of the plan is risk-profiling of other countries so places with high rates of vaccination and low levels of Covid-19 could be treated differently to others where Covid-19 is still raging.

In Parliament, Hipkins said Delta had changed the thinking around that and risk profiling was "particularly problematic."

"We were looking at a situation where you could stratify countries based on risk, and I think in the Delta environment we actually have to consider whether, in fact, that's an appropriate thing to do recognising that all countries, all people coming into the country at this point, have a degree of risk associated with them," he said

Ardern, in what looked like an attempt to soften Hipkins' comments or correct the way they had been interpreted, later said there was no reason to delay the overall plan.

"I think what we've always said is within this risk framework we've always got to be willing and able to adapt to the variants of concern," she said.

"I think there's been an assumption that somehow our re-opening plans have dramatically changed. I'd say that is not the case. We just have to build in, as I say, the impact of Delta in the way we risk profile but we've always kept room for that."

The government's response to the attack in Auckland, the Delta outbreak and the bid to buy extra vaccine shunted other political news aside this week - almost.

Seymour was the only party leader to achieve widespread coverage, and it didn't work out well.

The ACT leader released a written statement with an attached image displaying the priority access codes which allow Māori and Pacific people to receive vaccinations at Whānau Ora locations without needing to book.

"If you're worried about vaccination times, you no longer need to make an appointment. All you need to do is use this access code," he told his followers.

"The virus doesn't discriminate on race, so neither should the rollout."

The code he tweeted was for Māori who wanted to be vaccinated at Whānau Waipareira, a Whānau Ora centre in West Auckland, the New Zealand Herald reported.

It's run by former Labour MP and minister John Tamihere, who is seldom lost for words.

He accused Seymour of attempting to sabotage attempts to make the rollout more equitable.

"The only privilege so far has been for white and Asian New Zealanders, looking at the numbers," Tamihere said.

"To put it in perspective, our programme itself has vaccinated 62,000 people, of those 48,000 were Pākehā and just 10,000 are Māori and Pasifika.

"When you put all the data together and look at accessibility and even how to get there, it is clear Maori have not been a priority."

Criticism didn't stop there.

"ACT leader David Seymour's sharing of a priority code for Māori is disgraceful and disgusting and undermines efforts to improve Maori and Pacific health outcomes, doctors and politicians say," RNZ reported.

Newshub said: "David Seymour is facing an absolute pile-on after tweeting an access code for Māori to book their vaccination because he says they shouldn't be prioritised."

RNZ's report said contrary to Seymour's claim, the virus did discriminate.

"The New Zealand Medical Journal has found that after controlling for age and underlying conditions, Māori and Pacific people have 2.5x and 3.06x higher odds of being hospitalised for contracting Covid-19 than other ethnicities," it said.

"Researchers estimated risk of death for Māori was at least 50 percent higher while vaccination rates have languished."

Not surprisingly, Judith Collins declined to comment.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, has 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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