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Select Committee Suppresses Green Minority Report

Green MP Keith Locke has accused the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee of suppressing his minority report on the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill.

"The members wanted me to delete my main point of disagreement with the bill," said Mr Locke, "which is that it could penalise support for strike and protest action in New Zealand and for liberation movements overseas.

The definition of terrorism in the bill has been tightened up a little, said Mr Locke, but it would still make it a crime to aid liberation movements like Nelson Mandela's ANC, which used violence, mass strikes and protest to bring down apartheid.

"Robert Mugabe could certainly define a general strike against him as terrorism under this bill.

"For New Zealand unions, the final version of the bill is in some ways worse than the first. Previously, any strike or lockout could not be considered a terrorist act, even if it fitted other definitions in the bill.

"Now, strikers can be designated as terrorists if they 'unduly' pressure a government and seriously disrupt infrastructure. Even a qualification that actions have to be 'likely to endanger human life' could still catch some unionists, such as nurses on strike in a hospital.

"The problem with the bill's broad definition of terrorism is that could be misused by the Prime Minister, who is given the power to 'designate' terrorists, initially on the very low threshold of 'good cause to suspect.'

"The fear, raised in many submissions to the select committee, was that a Prime Minister like Robert Muldoon could easily define people like the 1981 anti-Springbok tour protest organizers as 'terrorists' because their actions were seriously disruptive and may endanger human life," said Mr Locke.

"Further, such 'terrorists' may never be allowed to see the evidence against them, if it is 'classified.' And under the bill, foreign governments are given the right to determine what information provided to a New Zealand court is 'classified.'

"I question the need for this bill at all: real terrorism is essentially criminal behaviour and should be dealt with through amendments to criminal law, rather than through political legislation, like this bill."

Green Member's Minority Report on the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing Bill)

March 21, 2002.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee refused to let this minority report be included in the Report from the Committee to the House of Representatives deposited in the House on March 22, 2002.

The Green member, Keith Locke, acknowledges that the committee has worked hard to incorporate amendments so that support for legitimate protest activities or liberation movements would not be treated as terrorist activities. He appreciates that several amendments addressing these concerns have been approved by the committee, but he still believes that bill undermines our civil liberties in several respects.

He opposes the bill because he believes that:

1. Although the committee has narrowed the definition of a terrorist act in a commendable way, in the Green member's opinion the definition remains too broad, and could still include activities of liberation movements. The Green member also welcomes the amendment enabling citizens to provide funds to liberation movements if they are used for the purpose of advocating democratic government. However, liberation movements, like the ANC and Fretelin in the past, engage in activities that go beyond advocacy, and financial support for these activities could still be proscribed and subject to heavy penalties. The onus is on people giving to liberation groups to find out whether those groups engage directly in activities covered by the definition of terrorism, or pass on funding to groups who do.

2. In the Green member's view the definition of a terrorist act remains sufficiently broad as to catch many otherwise legitimate activities of New Zealanders. Large scale protest activity like that against the 1981 Springbok rugby tour could still be considered to be terrorism. Major civil disorder can cause serious disruption to infrastructure, and can potentially endanger human life. Even activities such as strikes by nurses could do that. Laudably, the committee has introduced a clause aimed at excluding strikes and protests from the definition of terrorism. However, the Green member believes the clause does not always achieve this. If the strike or protest is political in nature, is intended to force a government or organisation like the IMF to do something, and seriously interferes with the infrastructure in a way likely to endanger human life, the Green member believes it could still meet the definition of a terrorist act.

3. In the Green members view, the bill still raises questions about the distinction between legitimate liberation movements and terrorists. He is concerned that a legal decision on which is which could be biased by political considerations, particularly when process of designation of a terrorist or terrorist group is to be done by the Prime Minister, in consultation with others. This problem is significant because the interim designation of a terrorist only needs the Prime Minister to have "good cause to suspect" involvement in "terrorism".

4. Notwithstanding significant improvements during the select committee process, the Green member believes the judicial protections contained in the bill remain inadequate. The initial designation is implemented without any hearing. In subsequent court proceedings the accused person or organisation may be denied any effective right to be heard or even to see the evidence against them. Classified evidence can be withheld from the accused at any stage in the legal process. Information may be withheld from the accused solely on the basis that a foreign government requires that it be kept secret. It is possible for a political refugee to be the subject of secret accusations from the government of the country from which they have fled and be designated a terrorist as a result.

5. The bill provides that information to the Prime Minister from the United Nations Security Council stating that a person or organisation is considered a terrorist is "sufficient evidence" that the person or organisation is a terrorist in the absence of evidence to the contrary. That is unacceptable as, in the opinion of the Green member, the United Nations Security Council is above all a political body, not a judicial body, and we have our own sovereignty.

6. The bill is silent on provisions for compensation for persons or groups wrongly designated as terrorists. They can sue for negligence under general law. Ex gratia payments could be provided at the discretion of the Executive. However, issues of compensation need to be determined independently of the Executive, itself responsible for the initial decision to designate. The powers and procedures contained in this bill are potentially devastating on the person or organisation wrongly designated, and the Green member believes that the ordinary rules of negligence are not adequate for the purposes of determining compensation.

7. In my view, this bill should be referred to the Attorney General with a request that she bring to the attention of the House the provisions in the bill which are inconsistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. In the Green member's opinion, there are breaches of sections 14-19, 21-25 and 27 of that Act. This bill, as amended, is fundamentally different to that which was initially introduced prior to September 11, 2001. What is now required is the application of the normal procedures by which the House's attention is drawn to potential violations of New Zealanders' human rights.

The Green member believes there is not sufficient reason for this bill to proceed. New Zealand is not facing terrorist problems of any real significance. New Zealand should cooperate with other nations in apprehending any terrorists. However, the current law is generally adequate to deal with what are in essence criminal acts. If there are any weaknesses in the present law regarding the freezing of assets of criminals then that should be dealt with through amendments to criminal law, with appropriate checks and balances, rather than through political legislation, like this anti-terrorist bill. The Green member believes that this bill represents a serious step backwards for civil liberties in this country.

Ends

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