16 Oct 2019

Government introduces new bill to prevent terrorism

7:04 pm on 16 October 2019

The government is introducing a new counter-terrorism law as it prepares for the potential return of foreign fighters from Syria.

Andrew Little

Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill would give police the power to apply for a High Court control order for New Zealanders who've been involved in terrorist activities overseas.

But with the Greens refusing to support the Bill on humanitarian grounds, Justice Minister Andrew Little will have to look to National to pass the bill.

And National says right now, the Bill isn't tough enough.

The legislation would apply to the likes of Mark Taylor, the so-called bumbling Jihadi who joined ISIS and is currently being detained by Kurdish forces in Syria.

Right now without a passport, or any diplomatic support, his chances of coming home remain slim.

But Justice Minister Andrew Little said if he, or any other New Zealanders like him did return, we need to be ready.

"We started a review of our terrorism suppression laws last year and in doing that review obviously the situation in Syria has been changing and in the last couple of weeks changed quite rapidly.

"We have to be prepared for the possibility that New Zealanders, and at least one New Zealander who has gone to that area for the purpose of terrorist fighting will come back to New Zealand and we need to be prepared for that", he said.

Mr Little said the High Court imposed control orders would only apply to a very small number of people and would be tailored to the individual's personal circumstances, risks, and rehabilitative needs.

"Conditions will be imposed to reduce the immediate risks to public safety, and to support the person's de-radicalisation and reintegration into New Zealand society.

"The more serious the risk, the more restrictive the conditions are likely to be", Mr Little said.

Watch: Andrew Little interviewed on Checkpoint:

Mr Little told Checkpoint it was a constraint on people's absolute freedoms.

"No question about it. But we're dealing with people - this would only apply to a small number of people who continue to pose a risk.

"These restrictions would be up to a judge to decide, if and when that person then makes it back to New Zealand, crosses our border, they're obviously then advised of the restrictions on them. They're also advised that they have a right to legal aid to challenge or to review the orders on them, and they can go through that process and they'll be supported to do that.

"It is pretty draconian because in the very, very small number of instances where New Zealanders or people holding a New Zealand passport have gone overseas and carried out violent extremist acts whether in pursuit of some political cause, religious cause, ideological cause, and then seek to come back, then it is right that the government, the authorities, seek to make sure that the rest of New Zealand is safe."

But Greens Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman is raising humanitarian red flags and warning this could end up catching people who aren't actually terrorists.

"What's actually frightening about this is we're going to rely on evidence collected by foreign agencies who may have employed torture, which we know isn't going to be reliable, or actually targeted at political dissidents," she said.

Ms Ghahraman said we already had laws to deal with someone like Mark Taylor coming home and she called it "dog-whistling" legislation.

"It's that kind of tough on crime, war on terror language that especially in a post-Christchurch world in New Zealand has no place here.

"We know that it will rile up fear and anxiety about something that isn't a problem, we have terror law, we have policing mechanisms - let's rely on those", Ms Ghahraman said.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejects that.

"No, absolutely not, this is a very practical response. We have obviously a new and emerging issue that the globe is trying to deal with.

"We've got to protect the safety of New Zealanders, we do have known individuals who have engaged in activity that we of course have strongly discouraged that the law needs to be able to respond to and that's what this is about," Ms Ardern said.

Attack on civilisation - Peters

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said it would be extremely naive for the government to do nothing.

"Do you not understand that this is an attack on the whole Western civilisation that you're looking at? The reality is if someone came into this country and we didn't take the action we should have taken, when it's all over you'll all be looking at us and screaming 'blue murder' that we didn't act.

"Well, we're getting in first, responsibly", Mr Peters said.

The Greens' objections mean Labour and New Zealand First will be at the mercy of National in getting this over the line.

The party's leader Simon Bridges is making it clear, he wants a tougher law.

"The bill isn't strong enough and doesn't make New Zealanders safe enough and so there are changes that we definitely think have to be made.

"Effectively they are changes that are the same or similar to provisions in Australia."

National's changes include allowing police to detain returnees if necessary, increasing the maximum duration for control orders, and lowering the age limit from 18 to 14.

"Regrettably there are young people who are radicalised by their family and by other people. In Australia they've seen examples of young people, as young as 15, who they've needed to have these sort of orders in place on.

"No one takes any pleasure in this but I think it's a situation where we need to have the scope at least for the High Court to go lower", he said.

Mr Bridges said he wouldn't describe these proposed changes as 'bottom-lines', and he would wait to negotiate directly with Mr Little.

But he said he will be strongly urging Mr Little to adopt them all, because he thinks New Zealanders will be less safe without them.

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