21 Sep 2021

Anti-terror law back before Parliament today, but faces opposition

6:33 am on 21 September 2021

Legislation introducing a new offence for planning a terrorist attack comes back to Parliament today, after being expedited as a result of the LynnMall attack.

The first Question time and sitting of the House  in alert level 4 lockdown in the House of Representatives debating chamber.

Anti-terror law will be back before Parliament today, but some have concerns about it (file image). Photo: Pool / ROBERT KITCHIN / STUFF

Ahamed Samsudeen was shot dead in early September after attacking shoppers at the Auckland mall, leaving a number of people seriously inured.

He had been under intensive police surveillance for some weeks after being released from prison and he had been red-flagged by authorities some years before because of his extreme beliefs.

The government had expressed its frustration at the inability of authorities to keep him off the streets after a string of court appearances relating to the possession of ISIS material.

The Crown tried - and failed - to charge him under the Terrorism Suppression Act because planning to commit a terrorist attack was not an offence under current law.

That will change under the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill, along with other changes to existing anti-terror laws.

National MP Mark Mitchell said there had been some refinements after going through select committee - including to the definition of a "terrorist act".

"There was quite a bit of debate in terms of the threshold or in using the term 'fear' or 'intimidation'; we landed on 'intimidation', because it is in line with what other countries are doing."

But Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said the legislation needed a lot more work, time that was not allowed.

"Creating law like this, in a knee-jerk way, only leads to more ineffective law, so it has been a shame to see that that process be sped up."

Agreement came from across the aisle from ACT leader David Seymour, whose party will be voting no.

"This is not the sort of legislation that should be rushed through Parliament, and ACT will be opposing it ... not because we necessarily oppose all of the initiatives, but simply because rushing them through Parliament is a terribly irresponsible thing to do."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insisted the proper time had been taken.

"This policy was first proposed to us by officials in 2018 and we asked for the work to be undertaken, it's then subsequently gone through a full Cabinet process, introduced to Parliament, referred to select committee, received submissions from the public and reported back."

There would be no surprises when it came back today, she said.

"We had consensus recommendations from the select committee ... which have been heard by Cabinet and we've not made moves beyond the scope of the original bill that went to the public."

Mitchell said the bill would not be disadvantaged by the speedier timeframe, as "submissions had been heard and all of the official advice had been seen by the committee.

"We are happy with the form of the bill as it stands, and we obviously were very public about the fact that we would support the government and in expediting and getting the bill through the house."

Ghahraman said there was a fundamental legal shift within the bill through the creation of the planning offence - described by some experts as "thought crimes".

"There's a real problem when you say that you can now charge someone criminally for what amounts to effectively planning to plan to commit an offence - just very, very far away from normal levels of of culpability in our justice system."

Seymour agreed there were a number of problems, including a lower threshold for warrantless searches.

"Another is the criminalising of preparing to commit a crime, which is a major departure from our constitutional history, which says you can only be punished for things that you actually do," Seymour said.

"These are significant changes to New Zealand's political rights and civil liberties that deserve proper scrutiny."

Federation of Islamic Associations chairperson Abdur Razzaq said they "absolutely" supported strengthening anti-terror laws, but shared concern about the planning offence.

"We know from experience in particularly in UK and US people just taking photographs, tourists taking photographs, that could then be turned into they were planning attacks - these areas have to be really carefully thought out and made sure normal people are not impacted," he said.

"Of course, we all want to catch terrorists, but this wide-ranging power given, and don't forget this is warrantless powers, this is going to be very, very difficult to claw back."

The bill will also:

  • Criminalise travel to, from, or via New Zealand with the intention to carry out a specified offence in the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002
  • criminalise planning or preparation for a terrorist act (and apply warrantless powers of entry, search, and surveillance to that offence)
  • more clearly criminalise weapons training or combat training for terrorist purposes
  • criminalise wider forms of material support for terrorist activities or organisations
  • extend the control orders regime so that individuals who have completed a prison sentence for specified offences related to terrorism may be subject to the regime if they continue to present a real risk of engaging in terrorism-related activities.

The government plans to have the bill passed by the end of the month.

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