Prime Minister's Post Cabinet Press Conference
Prime Minister's Post Cabinet Press
December 13th 2004
Mr Zaoui and New
By Kevin List - Scoop Media Chief Reporter
The fall-out from the recent Supreme Court decision regarding detained refugee Ahmed Zaoui being granted bail by the Supreme Court dominated most of the Prime Minister's press conference.
The Prime Minister had steadfastly opposed any new legislation being put in place whilst the procedures around Mr Zaoui played themselves out. Yesterday after more than a year of stating this – she informed the press gallery that the Government was actually going to introduce new legislation and that the legislation, in all likelihood would be passed before the conclusion of the Zaoui case.
The Prime Minister also seemed annoyed at how long the Zaoui case had dragged on.
The Prime Minister failed utterly to address the fact that her own Government had dragged the entire process out for more an extra year by appealing a High Court decision in December 2003 and a recent Court of Appeal decision October 2004. The Prime Minister also maintained she had never commented publicly on the substance of the Zaoui case when she had in fact publicly commented on his being granted refugee status both inside and outside the House.
The Prime Minister: "What I have to say on it is that the law is a dogs breakfast and that my mind is now very focused on the review which must occur of the law. Governments do have a responsibility to police borders and uphold national security – and it is not acceptable to me that a law that was designed to do that ends up with someone still with their future hanging up in the air after two years."
"My mind is very focused on how we can have a law that works well – that is fair to everybody but does enable us to perform that basic function. I’m particularly interested in Canadian precedents because I think that Canada is a country with similar values to our own and they have legislated in this area – and we are certainly looking very closely at what they have."
Question: Why is it taking so long?
The Prime Minister: "I think the reason he is out on bail is because it has taken so long. It all comes back to a deeply flawed law passed in 1998 which we have inherited – and you don’t think to go and review every law when it has never been activated but it was activated in March last year by the Director of Security and ever since it has been tied up in protracted legal proceedings. That is why I say the law is a dogs breakfast and I am now ‘future focused’ on the shape of the law that must replace it.
"I would expect that a procedure should be put in place that is speedy and there is an expectation that bail wouldn’t be allowed. The problem the Supreme Court confronted was that there had been detention for two years and still the case didn’t look like it was anywhere near over."
"The law is a litigators paradise and every possible opportunity to litigate around it has been taken – now you can say that is fair for one and all but as Prime Minister I have to say that the Government has a responsibility to ensure that where there is a security risk assessed that then needs to be independently reviewed and assessed in a timely manner so decisions can be made.
"As you know I have never uttered an opinion on the substance of the case around Zaoui – what I’ve always said is that I want it to get to the Inspector-General’s so that a review can be done."
Whilst the PM maintains she has never commented publicly on the case – she has had this to say about Mr Zaoui
Larry Williams: But, you look at these judgments and I’m sure you have looked at these judgments; there is a litany of events backed up by judgments that Zaoui associated and participated with terrorists with the intent to prepare a terrorist act. How can he possibly remain in this country?
Helen Clark: Well, that question of course could be asked to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority which decided not to rely on the decisions of the French and Belgian courts. Ah, nor presumably to put reliance on the fact that the Swiss government actually deported Mr Zaoui to Bukina Faso and chartered a plane to get him there, so keen were they to get rid of him. So I think the public listening to this will understand why the Director of Security thought he should issue the Security Risk Certificate and really what we need to do is to get on with getting that reviewed as per the law so that decisions can be made.
The Prime Minister further declined to make any substantive comment on the Zaoui case when she commented on the New Zealand Herald's coverage of the Zaoui case by their European correspondent Catherine Field –
"Helen Clark would not be interviewed yesterday, but on radio she referred to a Weekend Herald report which said European intelligence sources believed Mr Zaoui had provided financial or logistical support to Algerian terrorists.
She said while the Government could lift the security risk certificate against Mr Zaoui at any time, on the basis of the Herald report people might say, "Hang on a minute, would that be wise?" – NZ Herald 24.11.2004
Back to the PM's December 13 Press Conference
The Prime Minister: "At this stage it is not possible to even move to that point. Now what we have to look to is a situation where we have very speedy movement from such a certificate being issued - to a review."
"It would have weighed on the Supreme Court’s mind in making its decision [regarding Mr Zaoui’s bail] that already two years have elapsed and the impression they were clearly getting from both defence and Crown counsel was that this could be another year away – that would be in part because the Supreme court itself has yet to make a decision as to whether it will hear a Crown Appeal."
"It will advance that in February – if it does hear the Crown Appeal then a date will have to be set down for that so still the Inspector general has yet to begin the review. So you can see how it can drag on. – That is the context in which the Supreme Court [Mr Zaoui's bail] decision has to be seen."
"I think the problem is a badly flawed law. And I don’t say is because anyone was incompetent in drawing it up. It was drawn up with the best of intentions. It simply hasn’t worked – and for a law in this area to work you have to be able to make a speedy decision."
"I think anyone attempting to follow the particular track Mr Zaoui has been on wouldn’t be encouraged by the thought of two years in jail might be the first port of call – secondly no new legislation should apply in Mr Zaoui’s case – that doesn’t mean the Government shouldn’t get on with getting legislation ready as quickly as possible."
A question from the gallery pondered whether the PM thought the Zaoui case reflected badly on the Government and the Attorney-General [Margaret Wilson].
The Prime Minister: "No I don’t – for the reason that the litigation has been quite complex around this. Part of the problem I think is the placement of this security risk process in the Immigration Act. So when it came to advising the Government around for example the issue of detention the advice was when you looked at this and you looked at that – you couldn’t legally place Mr Zaoui anywhere but a jail. Now as I said last week the [Supreme] Court has deemed that it has an inherent jurisdiction but we don’t have an inherent jurisdiction – we have to follow the law as we are advised that it stands."
"Courts do have an inherent jurisdiction – it may well be that it wouldn’t have exercised it if the certificate had only been in place for three months – but after two years [inaudible]"
"At no point has it involved me or the rest of the government or the cabinet making collective decisions on the substance of the case. We would rather like the Inspector-General to be able to rule on it."
"I don't think it is fair to apply law retrospectively. The Zaoui case is going on but we are certainly reviewing the law."
"What it [the review] is about is ensuring we do have a law which can operate. This law is clearly a dogs breakfast. This law doesn't enable timely decisions to be made, and as I say, I think that is the reason why in the end the Supreme Court invoked inherent jurisdiction."
"Cabinet doesn't have a decision to make at any point [with regard to Mr Zaoui]!"
"The Inspector-General has yet to even look at it – if the Inspector-General looked at it and upheld the certificate then there would be a decision for the Minister of Immigration to make and that is a statutory decision. – it is not one the Cabinet can [make]."
"My understanding is they [the Canadian authorities] have procedures for more timely decision making."
The Prime Minister: "Certainly not while his case is before the authorities and probably not thereafter – there'd be no reason to."
Scoop: Would you be happy to have your human rights judged by Tony Ryall [National's current immigration spokesperson and therefore the most likely Minister of Immigration in a future National Government]]– as a last refuge?
The Prime Minister: "Well it never comes to that does it? It comes to proper processes established under the law and as I say it would be rather nice if the Inspector-General had been able to get on with the job in March last year."
Scoop: He could be Minister of Immigration one day though?
The Prime Minister: "I very much doubt it, following a recent series of reports!"
A question from TVNZ pondered whether there was concern within the Labour Party about the Governments handling of the Zaoui case. The Prime Minister: "I think there would be a range of views in the Labour Party as there are in the population. In the population it ranges from one extreme saying why wasn't he sent home two years ago to others saying why was he ever detained at all. My concern is that there are legal processes when a person - prima facie presents a security risk which enable that risk to be speedily assessed [and] proper regard paid to the balance of rights and liberties that you have to strike here. Bearing in mind that the state also has a responsibility to protect its citizens. I think the whole problem goes back to the law which cannot work speedily and effectively."
The Prime Minister: "I know that he [Douglas White QC] has asked for final comments and submissions from the two parties – Mr Tamihere and his lawyers and the Waipareira Trust and their lawyers. I understand Wednesday [for the final submissions] though it may be that he is in a position to report by the end of the week."
"As you know Mr Tamihere has always been very confident about the report and made a statement to that effect in Parliament. I’ve always said lets see what the person, who has been appointed to get to the bottom of it, comes up with."
"This is only one of two reports we still don’t have a timeline on the serious fraud office investigation."
The Prime Minister: "It is now actively on my mind – and it has always been my intention at around this point to have a re-shuffle. The only issue is whether it is before or after Xmas – it is more likely to be before than after – I’ve got a number of discussions to have this week."
Barry Soper of Newstalk ZB brough up the matter of Rob Robinson's re-appointment and made the connection between Clint Rickard's progress through the force and Mr Robinson's tenure. Mr Soper strongly implied that Mr Robinson would have known about Mr Rickard's involvement in possible sexual misconduct as a junior officer in the 1980s.
The Prime Minister: "I think it would be fairly mean spirited to say that he wasn’t [a good Police Commissioner] . I personally think he has been an outstanding Commissioner and he is held in high regard within the force as well as among the general public. When he was appointed I think I made the comment that he was a cops cop and I think that explains why he has had the respect that he is given. I personally think it is an excellent decision."
The PM's answer came after Mr Soper accused Rob Robinson of knowing about allegations of sexual misconduct surrounding Mr Rickard's and still promoted him.
The Prime Minister: "I wouldn’t say knowing that. I don’t think the issues around the appointment of Mr Rickards are major ones in the context of looking at a person [Mr Robinson] who has risen to the top of the force on his merits and in my view done an outstanding job as Commissioner."
The Prime Minister: "The Department of Conservation is now working to establish the basis of the legal public access which it believes exists and once it has that obviously it will be seeking to make it very clear that where legal rights of access exist they must be permitted to operate.
"This is clearly a very popular summer camping ground. DOC’s understanding is that it has long had legal rights of access to the area and legal rights of access should be upheld.
"Who knows what the motivation is. But if there are legal rights of access along the road then those just can’t be arbitrarily withdrawn. People make their plans around being able to access public camping grounds over an authorised access way – and on the verge of summer holidays it is important that people are able to about their lawful business. It may well be that DOC needs to enter into some discussions with the landowners – if the landowners genuinely feel that people have done other things they shouldn’t have then that is a matter for discussion – but if there is legal access people will be able to use it."