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Robson at book launch on Zaoui

Robson at book launch on Zaoui

The Light on the Hill Hon Matt Robson MP Deputy Leader of the Progressive Party Speech at the Wellington launch of " I almost forgot about the moon: The Disinformation Campaign Against Ahmed Zaoui". Parliament Wednesday October 20 2004

The title on my short speech tonight is a quotation from Australian Labour PM Ben Chifley (1945-49). The Light on the Hill epitomized his philosophy that: " I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a greater objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand." This was the philosophy of giants of the New Zealand Labour Party: Harry Holland, Michael Joseph Savage and Norm Kirk.

How would they view the Labour Party of today holding in a New Zealand prison an Algerian MP whose "crime' has been to try and give his people a government that would end the corruption and brutality of the military rulers and so threaten the control of oil and gas rich Algeria delivered to the western backers of the Algerian regime by the Algerian military?

How would they view the actions of jailing for over 23 months, 10 of them in solitary confinement, a man whom the authoritative RSAA found after an exhaustive examination to be a refugee slandered, persecuted and hunted, since the dispersal of the Parliament he was elected to, by the illegal rulers of his country and aided and abetted in that persecution by some of the most powerful countries in the world?

It was leaders like Ahmed Zaoui with the strength of will and character to stand up to oppression that forged the Labour Party. It was the philosophy of the founders of Labour, reflected in Ben Chifley's "light on the hill", that Ahmed Zaoui still thought shone brightly in New Zealand. That is why he sought refuge and a place of peace here. His dream was shattered.

I sit just three seats along from the Hon David Benson-Pope Labour MP for Dunedin South and Cabinet Minister. His words at Question Time on Thursday October 14 still ring in my ear as he heartily endorsed, by interjection, the sentiment of NZ First MP Dail Jones that Ahmed Zaoui is a parasite should be packed off in the first plane out of New Zealand.

"Get on a plane" he yelled across the Chamber.

Mr Dail Jones comes from a party that thrives on xenophobia, hatred for foreigners and disregard for the rules of natural justice.

Mr Benson-Pope belongs to a party that has a tradition of upholding human rights, the extension of democracy, respect for human rights and upholding the rule of law. As a cabinet minister he should be abiding by an impartial process for Ahmed Zaoui.

From the arrival of this Algerian MP seeking asylum Labour Ministers and MPs have echoed the line of the Algerian regime about Ahmed Zaoui: terrorist, criminal, Islamic fascist.

To the Labour Party women Ahmed Zaoui was portrayed as an advocate for the oppression of women.

The RSAA despite its exhaustive analysis of the issues has been denigrated and made out to be a negligent and cavalier body, which took not the slightest notice of the convictions of the Belgian and French courts. Over 50 pages of analysis shows that they certainly took notice of those convictions. However the RSAA dismissed them as unfair and unjust and lacking all procedural fairness. That didn't go down well in Paris or Brussels. But there was no Harry Holland, Michael Joseph Savage or Norm Kirk in the Beehive to stand up to Paris and Brussels in defence of the integrity of the RSAA.

The Minister of Customs has not reviewed the procedure, which allowed Ahmed Zaoui to be questioned in a noisy customs hall in a language that he did not understand, many hours after arriving on a long flight. This process allowed an untrained customs officer to classify Ahmed Zaoui as a member of a dangerous terrorist organization.

The Minister of Police has not reviewed a process of producing a Risk Assessment based on information from a disreputable private American website and the warrant of the discredited Algerian regime. This document was then used by Corrections, with heavy pressure from the SIS and Police to place Ahmed Zaoui in solitary confinement.

The various ministers of Correction have taken no responsibility for the holding of Ahmed Zaoui in contravention to the regulations in solitary confinement in Paremoremo for over 10 months.

The Minister in charge of Immigration did not find it necessary to inquire as to why the New Zealand Herald was able to publicise, with extravagant claims of association with Al Queda and terrorism in general, the name of Ahmed Zaoui soon after his arrival despite the fact that the Herald was breaching the Immigration Act.

TVNZ, later to be denied access to Ahmed Zaoui himself in order for his story to be aired, was able to film him in court in prison uniform, handcuffed and dishevelled also in breach of the law.

And the Minister in charge of the SIS has not investigated the numerous breaches of natural justice of that organization, its refusal to place its so-called information in front of the RSAA and to the last defended Laurie Grieg, the erstwhile Inspector-General of Security despite his clear bias against refugees and close working relationship with the Director of the SIS.

And the Crown has been at its most litigious in seeking to limit Ahmed Zaoui's right to a fair hearing.

To come to a conclusion that Ahmed Zaoui was a refugee and not a terrorist the RSAA followed the simple but well-established rules of natural justice.

To keep Ahmed Zaoui in prison for 23 months those rules have had to be breached.

I stood with Labour colleagues in Parliament in 1999 as we warned that the legislation that established the security risk certificate procedure would lead to the removal of natural justice and wrongful imprisonment. Those predictions have eventuated.

It is time for Labour MPs to return to the principles that those previous Labour Party giants never wavered from. It is not good enough to attend human rights meetings, sign up to Amnesty International and preach about human rights in faraway lands. The principles have to apply at home.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff recently warned the United Nations General Assembly that countries had to be careful that measures against terrorism did not end up eroding the rule of law. It is time that New Zealand Parliamentarians heeded that warning here.

Ahmed Zaoui has committed a crime- in the eyes of the military rulers of Algeria and their powerful allies. That is he and his compatriots challenged the right of the military rulers to rule, in favour of the people's right to choose.

Our SIS Director noting perhaps that in the US State Report 2000 that Algeria was praised extensively for combating terror and handing over the names of thousands of terrorists to Washington wanted to earn the same praise. That is clear in his explanation for the risk certificate:

" If Mr Zaoui was allowed to settle here with his public record that would indicate that New Zealand has a lower level of concern about security than other like minded countries. That would impact adversely on New Zealand's reputation with such countries and thus on New Zealand's international well-being.'

There you have it - despite Ahmed Zaoui in a public hearing having found not to be a terrorist or a threat to our security on the say so of "like minded countries (read those much bigger and powerful than us) his right to justice will be withdrawn on the word of the unaccountable Director of Security Intelligence.

Radio talkback host Kerre Woodham recently wrote in the NZ Herald that "There are plenty of people who look into Zaoui's big brown eyes and see him as the uber-refugee"

Well Kerre those who know the case see him as one among millions of persecuted and hunted people in the world whose crime is not terrorism but the "crime" of standing up to state terrorism and calling for the implementation of human rights guaranteed under international law.

We did not expect that there would be a New Zealand radio host who would want to dismiss the call for natural justice for an asylum seeker in New Zealand because it is supposedly coming from: "Softly spoken women with incredibly good diction. they're just the sort of guys you side should the worst happen and you find yourself an enemy of the state" The worst has actually happened for Ahmed Zaoui, Algerian MP and the more than 200,000 murdered Algerians. They were declared enemies of the state. Ahmed Zaoui sought sanctuary in New Zealand, as he did not expect New Zealand to deny him the right to a fair hearing. He did not expect to be kept in solitary confinement and treated harshly. Nor to have a radio host airily dismiss breaches of the law.

And yes, if I were an enemy of the state I would like women like Deborah Manning, Yasmine Ryan and Katie Small out either softly or loudly for me.

Kerre Woodham who never in her life has had to go without a meal, suffer torture, face a death sentence or flee her homeland has loftily questioned as to whether Ahmed Zaoui " should...really be at the top of the refugee queue?" Would you say Kerre that 10 years of seeking a safe haven for you and your family, being held in prison, fleeing from country to country and then being held for 22 months without charge in a New Zealand jail so that you almost forget about the moon is being at the top of the queue?

But the truth will out. The weight of evidence judiciously weighed by the RSAA and found to be in Ahmed Zaoui's favour cannot be ignored forever.

The light of the law is being shone on this case. That results from the magnificent work of the legal team of Deborah Manning, Richard McLeod and Dr Rodney Harrison - all of them slandered from on high as being either inexperienced or on the legal aid gravy train or both. Perhaps those without principle find it hard to recognise it when they see it.

The Council of Trade Unions has now added its considerable weight to the demand for the principle of fairness and natural justice.

It is time that all the New Zealanders who support the rule of law were joined by their Members of Parliament whose constitutional role is to uphold the highest standards of law.

To Selwyn Manning , Yasmine Ryan and Katie Small authors of " I've almost forgotten the moon" your book is in the best traditions of ethical journalism and the tradition of fairness and humanity treasured by most New Zealanders.

Your book adds to the weight of evidence that persuaded the three eminent Members of the RSAA to find for Ahmed Zaoui. We owe you a debt for standing up for natural justice.

To Ahmed Zaoui - thousands of New Zealanders are speaking out in defence of your right to fair treatment. An injury to you is an injury to us all.

You and the authors tonight have spurred us to ensure that the principles of Harry Holland, Michael Joseph Savage and Norman Kirk are upheld in the land where you saw " a light on the hill".

ENDS

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