'There are safeguards': Parliament progresses new counter-terrorism laws despite concerns

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The Government has insisted there are sufficient “safeguards” built into powerful new counter-terrorism laws, as Parliament votes the prospective law through to its final stage.

The counter-terrorism bill, which would broaden the scope of what is considered terrorist activity, criminalise planning a terror attack, and provide new warrantless search and entry powers, has been advanced by the Government in the wake of the September 3 terror attack at Auckland’s LynnMall.

MPs from the Labour and National parties voted the bill through in its second reading on Tuesday afternoon. The Green, ACT, and Māori parties opposed the bill due to concerns it was being passed hastily and would give the state overreaching powers.

Minister Andrew Little, responsible for the Government’s counter-terror reforms, told the House on Tuesday afternoon “those concerned about the overreaching or overweening powers of the state” could be assured.

Minister Andrew Little, responsible for the Government’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque terror attacks, in the House. (File photo)

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Minister Andrew Little, responsible for the Government’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque terror attacks, in the House. (File photo)

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“In the end, I come back to the reality of the situation that has been illustrated by the events in March 2019 and September of this year: that there are those in our community, some who come to our community from abroad, who would cause us harm.

“Some of those actions will be very hard to detect, as we have seen, but others, with appropriate exercise of suspicion and inquiry, we can detect and we need our authorities to be able to take appropriate action at the right time to keep us all safe.”

He said the bill maintained a “high threshold” for laying terrorism charges, and included safeguards such as requiring the Attorney-General to sign off on prosecutions, excluding protest or activist activity from terror laws, and requiring reasonable proof of a terror risk before warrantless search powers can be used.

The Justice Select Committee, which finished reviewing the bill earlier this month, tweaked the definition of terrorism in the proposed law. Initially, the definition to describe terrorism as an act carried out for “one or more purposes” that advance such causes, to induce “fear” in a population or “coerce” a government or international organisation to do or abstain from something.

The committee was advised “fear” was not specific enough. It was changed to an act intended to “intimidate” a population – a term which was considered more in line with comparable definitions in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The committee also moved to simplify the proposed criminal offence for planning a terror attack, to remove a carve out that could have stopped people being prosecuted for “planning to plan” a terror attack.

“This was intended to clarify the scope of the offence,” Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said, in the House.

“Its removal will not lead to over-criminalisation by the new planning and preparation offence within the bill.”

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi in the House. (file photo)

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Justice Minister Kris Faafoi in the House. (file photo)

Green Party intelligence agencies spokesman Teanau Tuiono​ said the bill was being passed in haste in the aftermath of the Auckland attack, and its new provisions required more time for scrutiny.

“We’ve seen this before. If people remember back in 2001, we had the war on terror, the towers went down, and so of course New Zealand jumped on board and passed the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act.

“At that time many Māori communities, social justice groups, and environmental groups said, ‘Hey, if these people don’t find terrorists, they will come looking for us,’ and they did. In 2007, we had the Urewera raids, where they raided our whānau in the Ureweras and Ruātoki.”

ACT Party justice spokeswoman Nicole McKee said she hoped Parliament had allayed the concerns about the bill held by the Law Society, Human Rights Commission and Privacy Commissioner.

“The bill was due to be reported back to the House on 5 November, and we see no clear reason for its passage to be hurried,” she said.

ACT MP Nicole McKee was a member of the Justice Select Committee that considered the counter-terrorism bill.

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ACT MP Nicole McKee was a member of the Justice Select Committee that considered the counter-terrorism bill.

“Rushing this bill’s progress despite the significant concerns raised by submitters can risk gaps being left and exploited. That can leave the trade-off between security and freedoms being unbalanced, with executive overreach then being permitted.”

The Government had promised to boost counter-terrorism laws after the release of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque terror attacks, which highlighted a possible need for “precursor crimes”, or criminal offences for terrorism planning that could be used to disrupt attacks.

Such a provision does not exist under the existing Terrorism Suppression Act. Under this law, police had tried in 2020 to charge the terrorist behind the attack in Auckland last month, but this was denied by a judge.