11 Mar 2021

National MP Simon Bridges on anti-terror laws: 'Chickens coming home to roost'

7:48 am on 11 March 2021

The government is defending the law governing returning terror suspects as tough enough, even though it gives law enforcement no power to detain someone at the border.

National Party justice spokesperson Simon Bridges at Parliament's police select committee.

Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The likely arrival of 25-year Suhayra Aden raises questions about New Zealand's anti-terrorism laws and whether they will provide the level of national security promised by the prime minister.

Aden and her two young children are being held in a Turkish deportation centre after illegally trying to cross the border from Syria.

National says the government is putting New Zealanders at risk and should reconsider the law.

In 2019, legislation was hurriedly passed when "Kiwi jihadi" Mark Taylor surfaced in Syria.

As a result, 'control orders' can be placed on those deemed a security risk, which can impose a range of restrictions and obligations, but the person cannot be detained.

Former Justice Minister Andrew Little describes the security status of someone under a control order as "free, subject to conditions".

The law was passed with the support of the Greens; Little cut National out of negotiations after it came forward with a list of demands, including 72 hours' detention on arrival.

National leader at the time, and now justice spokesperson Simon Bridges says the "chickens are coming home to roost".

He says they warned Little about not giving authorities the power to detain at the border.

"That's a real gap ... a law that made Zealanders 'half safe' when it comes to suspected terrorists and unfortunately half safe in this sort of environment isn't safe at all."

He urges the government to take another look at the proposals his party presented in 2019.

Health Minister Andrew Little 17/02/21

Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Little dismisses that as "once again, Simon Bridges and the National Party playing politics with national security".

"They tried to do it last time, it didn't work and it won't this time."

It's a good law, he says, that "strikes the right balance", furthermore he wouldn't be "drawn into people's over dramatisation of unknown security risks".

Greens co-leader James Shaw has no regrets about how the law turned out, also arguing it hits a "balance" between "national security concerns and ... civil liberties".

He acknowledges the people subject to the law pose a certain risk, but Shaw says the public should "not be concerned" about the prospect of people, who until recently had been very close to Isis, living alongside them.

"I think that we had that debate in Parliament and we thrashed it out at the time, and I think that the law provides a good balance".

Bridges says another point is the sheer cost to monitor someone high risk 24/7 - if that's what's needed.

"Every suspected terrorist that has a control order will end up costing inevitably New Zealanders millions of dollars because they require surveillance that is hugely expensive, and the apparatus that goes around that is huge," he says.

Little, also the minister responsible for New Zealand's spy agencies, says cost and resourcing could vary depending on the surveillance needed.

"If it is somebody you know and you know where they are and they're under court orders that constrain them anyway, that would push it to the lower end of the cost."

But few surveillance operations go for an extended period, he says, "obviously, there's always a cost, but surveillance operations like that seldom go for months and months and months."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised national security would be a high priority if Aden does end up in New Zealand.

She was asked if the law matches public expectations.

"I've said national security will be our absolute focus and I absolutely stand by that.

"There are a range of ways that we can ensure we meet that objective though, detention is but one of a number of suites of tools that we have in our toolbox."

Ardern said available measures outside of control orders "very much depend on the individual cases".

She did not want to get "too far ahead of ourselves before we have some of the investigations that would be required to make those decisions".

While there's no public update on the plan for Aden, the question of which country she'll be sent to - with all signs that'll be New Zealand - is expected to be resolved within the next month or so.

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