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Act boosts government's fight against terrorism

Act boosts government's fight against terrorism

Passage of the Counter Terrorism Act gives New Zealand the ability to comprehensively deal with terrorist activities and threats, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

"The recent commemoration of last year’s Bali bombing was a tragic reminder of the on-going threat to the safety and security of New Zealanders posed by international terrorism," Mr Goff said.

"This Act reflects New Zealand’s need to comply with international obligations and to be able to effectively investigate, detect, and prosecute terrorist activity.

"Terrorism does not always come in the form of a bomb or a gun. The deliberate introduction of disease such as foot and mouth would be catastrophic for New Zealand. Instilling widespread fear in a community is also a form of terrorism.

"This Act creates new offences to deal with such threats, and gives Police and Customs the power to investigate and prosecute those offences. It also makes us fully compliant with our UN obligations.

"The new offences include improperly dealing with nuclear or radioactive material or unmarked plastic explosives; contaminating food, water or other products intended for human consumption; infecting animals with the intention of causing serious harm to animal populations and damage to the national economy; harbouring or concealing a terrorist; threatening major harm to persons, property or the national economy; or making malicious hoaxes.

The new offences carry penalties of up to 10 years' jail and a $500,000 fine. Terrorism will also be treated an aggravating factor at sentencing, and therefore attract harsher penalties.

Mr Goff said the Act contained provisions that were not terrorism-specific. They related to the use of tracking devices, a computer access requirement, and the admissibility of evidence obtained under an interception warrant.

"Terrorism should be dealt under general criminal law wherever possible because terrorist acts are usually criminal offences committed with an ideological, political, or religious motive.

"The use of tracking devices under the Act, where a breach of the law is needed to put them in place, will be limited to Police and Customs. Safeguards include the need for a judicial warrant requirement in all but emergency situations, and requirements to report on the extent to which such devices are used.

"Evidence of serious criminal offending lawfully obtained by an interception warrant will be admissible, even if the warrant was issued in relation to a different offence.

"Police will also have the power to require assistance from a person where necessary, such as providing passwords to access computers, but the assistance must be both reasonable and necessary. A judicial warrant is required.

"This is the electronic equivalent to admitting a Police with a search warrant on to your property."

Mr Goff said the Act also expanded on the Terrorism Suppression Act by allowing Customs to detain property, cash or equivalents crossing New Zealand's border if there is good cause to suspect the owner was a terrorist.

He rejected claims that the Act could be used to suppress lawful protests.

"Exercising a democratic right to protest will not see people designated as terrorists. Considerable effort was made in drafting Bill to avoid that unwarranted designation," Mr Goff said.

"The government is sensitive to the need to strike a balance between fighting terrorism and not infringing on personal freedoms. However the right to protest has never been a right to indulge in unrestrained criminal activity."

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