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Opinion: Keith Locke On Anti-Terror Legislation

Green MP Keith Locke
November 09 2001

Green MP Keith Locke says new anti-terrorism legislation currently going through Parliament could see protestors or activists designated as terrorists. The Government should not let the events of September 11 panic them into curtailing the freedom of New Zealanders to act on their consciences, he says.

The Government has backed down this week on their plan to rush through anti-terrorism legislation in secret.

As a member of the Select Committee which is considering the bill, I have been arguing in public that it would be a travesty of democracy to rush these strict new measures through without public consultation.

Civil liberties groups, lawyers and unions have all been pressing the Government to change their mind.

Under this mounting pressure, Foreign Minister Phil Goff has finally dropped his obsession with getting the bill passed by Christmas.

He has agreed to slow down the process, in order to inform the public about what's happening and allow them to make submissions on the new strict provisions in the bill.

It is draconian legislation and it puts the civil liberties that we take for-granted in this country at risk.

The bill will redefine terrorism and allow the assets of any terrorists or people supporting them to be frozen. It will also make recruiting a crime.

As it stands, the proposed definition of terrorism is very broad and covers any act designed to influence or compel a Government or population to act in a certain way for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political or religious cause.

Terrorist acts would put the health of the population at risk or would cause serious damage to property, infrastructure, or the economy. The Prime Minister will have the power to designate people or groups as terrorists.

The new definition of terrorism goes far beyond that presently in the Immigration Act which covers planting bombs and killing people for an "ideological" purpose.

People who are designated as terrorists will not be able to challenge the evidence against them through the courts. Their only avenue of appeal will be through the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Under this legislation, terrorists could be workers who cause "serious disruption" to "infrastructure" like transport facilities or electricity supplies, such as watersiders picketing a wharf and preventing a ship from loading. Civil disobedience, such as sitting down on roads during protests against the 1981 Springbok tour, could also be defined as serious disruption to infrastructure.

Other "terrorists" might be activists who pull out GE plants, if their actions result in "serious damage to property of great value", or in "major economic loss".

I accept that the present government probably wouldn't call picketers and protesters terrorists. But laws are written to restrain the worst governments, not the better ones.

Under this bill, the Prime Minister has the power to label people terrorists. One can well imagine Robert Muldoon designating HART a terrorist organisation in 1981.

The terrorist definition is supposed to apply in any country, and could criminalise New Zealanders who are not doing anything wrong here, but are financially supporting a liberation group overseas.

There is an old saying, "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter."

Nelson Mandela, whose African National Congress set off bombs at military bases, could certainly be designated a terrorist under the new definition, but most people consider him a freedom fighter.

Deciding who the terrorists are is quite subjective. A New Zealand prime minister may well decide that Free Papua Movement rebels or the Tamil Tigers are terrorists, because New Zealand is friendly with the Indonesian and Sri Lankan governments. However, those taking armed action against Saddam Hussein or the Taleban might be defined as freedom fighters.

The process of designating terrorists or terrorist organisations is itself flawed, because it can be done purely on the basis of secret information. People who are designated as terrorists have no right to see the evidence against them, at any stage in the process.

The Government claims this is okay, because if the Prime Minister gets it wrong the alleged terrorists can appeal to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security. That is putting a lot of trust in one person, particularly when the present Inspector General, Laurie Greig, does not have a perfect track record. After he justified an SIS raid on anti-free trade activist Aziz Choudry's house, Mr Choudry took a court case against the SIS and won.

In the current bill the terrorist designation is being used only to allow prosecution of New Zealanders who finance or recruit for "terrorist" groups. However, this could be extended to other associations with "terrorist" groups, as exists under British law. There it is now illegal to wear a T-shirt with the logo of an alleged terrorist group on it.

Phil Goff has also announced new powers for interception communications, the detail of which we don't yet know. An American bill, the USA Patriot Bill, recently passed by Congress gives the FBI much greater powers in this area, as well as an ability to detain terrorist suspects without charge for a week. In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard wants his intelligence organisation, ASIO, to be able to detain those who may have information on terrorists for up to 48 hours. That should worry us, because the Labour/Alliance government seems to be picking up anti-terrorist legislation passed overseas.

New Zealand should take it easy. We shouldn't buy into the terrorist hysteria. There hasn't been an international terrorist act in New Zealand since the French Government bombed the Rainbow Warrior in 1985.

There is no need to ram through legislation that might constrain our civil liberties for years to come.

If we do that, the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Centre will have achieved more than they anticipated.

Our Government will have been panicked into rushing through anti-terrorist legislation which curtails the freedom of New Zealanders. Surely we're a stronger society than that.

ENDS


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