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Homeland Security - A Discussion Paper

Homeland Security - A Discussion Paper

Released by Hon Bill English 16 December 2002

A Comprehensive Plan is Needed

Labour’s response to increased threats to security that New Zealanders face following the Bali bombings have been piecemeal and have totally ignored critical areas of preparedness.

The Prime Minister admitted recently she did not know that the Ministry of Health was purchasing smallpox vaccines in the event of a biological attack from terrorists. If the Prime Minister doesn’t know what’s happening, then it raises serious questions about the Government’s grip on homeland security.

The Minister in Government who has most say over these issues is the Minister of Police and the Minister of Civil Defence, George Hawkins. Mr Hawkins had no plan to respond to the leaky homes crisis, so people will have no confidence that he will be in charge of preventing and responding to a terrorist attack.

National says a homeland security plan is needed now.

We need to improve our ability to protect New Zealanders at home and abroad, so we require greater ability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks. We also need a comprehensive recovery strategy in case of a bomb, chemical or biological attack that could inflict major casualties.

New Zealand should be concerned about Homeland threats. Osama Bin Laden has said our closest ally, Australia, is a terrorist target because of its involvement in Afghanistan and East Timor. Australia says it now faces a high risk of a terrorist attack.

If Australia is at risk of an attack, then we are at some risk of an attack too. Certainly, if a terrorist attack occurred in Australia, we would regard New Zealand as under threat. New Zealand has SAS troops in Afghanistan, has announced it will send Te Kaha and an Orion to the Gulf as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and we were involved in East Timor.


Intelligence is the most important weapon in the detection and prevention of terrorist threats. New Zealand is heavily dependent upon its friends and allies to provide intelligence about terrorists. Evidence emerged in the aftermath of the Bali bombings that New Zealand’s access to intelligence is not as high as that enjoyed by Australia.

Better access to intelligence, particularly from the United States, will be limited by the fact that New Zealand is a friend, not an ally. This appears to affect our intelligence relationship with Australia as well.

It is noteworthy that Britain and Australia commissioned reviews of intelligence operations following the Bali bombings. The New Zealand Government has not done so.

National will use its representation on the Security Intelligence Committee to assess whether the SIS is sufficiently resourced to effectively respond to the new environment.

We want to know how well integrated and co-ordinated intelligence received from agencies ranging from Customs, Immigration and Police to the SIS are, and whether there is a need for an inter-agency counter-terrorism unit. The Security Intelligence Committee meets before Christmas.

Better Co-ordination and Wider Security Measures

Tighter border control measures together with improved intelligence will reduce the risks of terrorist attack.

The United States is combining agencies like the Coast Guard, Border Control and Secret Service into a single Homeland agency. New Zealand should commission a review to see how we can improve co-ordination across our agencies.

The recent Terrorism Suppression Act went some way toward expanding powers to deal with terrorism, but the provisions fall short of measures either adopted or under consideration in Australia.

These include tighter immigration controls and wider anti-terrorism powers for its intelligence services, telecommunication interception provisions as well special powers for the police to deal with and respond to imminent threats of terrorism.

While Australia may face a greater risk from attack, National believes New Zealand cannot be complacent. We may need to consider similar measures.

Responsiveness - Force

These measures are not guaranteed to stop an attack, so we must be able to respond with full force to an incident, and to manage the aftermath of an attack.

The former requires the use of a specialist force using the elite SAS troops.

The New Zealand SAS comprises about 120 members. It is far smaller than Australia’s Special Forces and British SAS, both of which have about 300 troops.

We don’t have enough capacity to make a consistent commitment in places like Afghanistan while maintaining capacity in New Zealand.

New Zealand would require four squadrons of SAS troops to enable reasonable rotation for an overseas commitment as well as a squadron in counter-terrorism training at home.

An enlarged SAS would be an expensive commitment and a significant rebalancing of our land forces.

While the police maintain a small Special Tactics Group which has anti-terrorism functions, it makes more sense to have all our counter-terrorist capacity integrated in one unit to avoid duplication and ensure more effective use of resources.

Responsiveness - Civil Defence

Even so, New Zealand must have a response plan if an attack succeeded.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has said that New Zealand’s hospital trauma services would not cope with the effects of a large-scale medical disaster.

Civil Defence’s focus is firmly on natural disaster and civil emergency. We are far better equipped to deal with floods and earthquakes.

Some US estimates say the number of personnel required to respond to the use of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction could run into the thousands. New Zealand’s capacity to cope with a chemical attack or a large bomb is inadequate.

The 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s underground rail system showed how unprepared their civil authorities were to deal with that emergency. That attack showed it is the domestic, non-military infrastructure that struggles after such an attack.

As a matter of urgency, National says the Government should:

review the capacity of health, military, fire, police and other services to deal with a major terrorist attack.

establish complementary arrangements with Australia to assist with a major incident, including the provision of specialist search and rescue teams, medical specialists and facilities, engineering specialists and other capabilities.

direct Civil Defence to develop a full plan to deal with chemical or biological hazards, or large scale bombing or establish a special dedicated group for that purpose.

ensure that the heads of key response organisations meet regularly to update and coordinate response measures, and share organisational, command, control and resource issues to manage terrorist risks

ensure combined training exercises are held regularly at local, national and regional levels, and

develop programmes, so the public are better informed about risks and how responses will be managed.

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