14 Oct 2014

PM warned over terror threat level

7:38 am on 14 October 2014

Prime Minister John Key is being warned not to overreact to New Zealand's increased terror threat level, as he signals the toughening up of anti-terrorism laws.

Mr Key has announced a four-week review of laws relating to foreign fighters, which he says is likely to recommend urgent changes before the end of this year.

SIS Minister Chris Finlayson and Prime Minister John Key yesterday.

SIS Minister Chris Finlayson and Prime Minister John Key yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

For the first time, the Government has revealed the country's threat level: on Friday it jumped from very low to low. Mr Key said that meant the risk of a terror attack was possible but not expected.

"Australia, on that scale, is high. But nevertheless we are moving up. New Zealand is becoming riskier ... if anyone believes that there is absolutely no risk of a form of domestic terrorism here then they're actually deluded."

Mr Key said there was a modest number of New Zealanders who wanted to travel and fight for Islamic State but would not say exactly how many.

The Cabinet has directed officials to review security settings with the aim of making it easier to stop New Zealanders joining or supporting jihadists abroad.

The Minister in charge of the SIS, Chris Finlayson, said there appeared to be gaps in the current law which made it difficult to prove someone was a foreign fighter.

Phil Goff.

Labour's Phil Goff. Photo: RNZ

"We have to adapt to changing circumstances. There's now this new phenomenon of the foreign terrorist fighter... and we have to assess whether or not the law is clear; whether or not there needs to be some changes made."

Mr Key said he would like to introduce those changes under urgency before the end of the year.

But Labour defence spokesperson Phil Goff said it sounded like Mr Key had already made up his mind, rendering the review a waste of time.

"It does feel very much like he's reached his conclusion ... that's regrettable. We need an evidence based approach, not ... a knee jerk reaction."

And he said rushing legislation was a sure recipe for getting it wrong. "An overreaction can in fact make the risk of terrorism worse. We need to avoid that."

Jan Logie.

Green MP Jan Logie. Photo: RNZ

The Greens' Jan Logie said the Human Rights Commission and Islamic Associations should be consulted as part of the review.

"Any review really needs to focus on the safety and security of New Zealanders and the protection of civil liberties and freedoms. Because they're things people fought really hard for and lost their lives for."

Mr Key wants to build broad Parliamentary support before passing any legislation. He has written to the leaders of all parties to offer a confidential briefing from officials on what the review will cover.

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