Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 16 June 2006 16 June 2006

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

Wide Open to Terrorists

A brief select committee hearing on the Terrorism Suppression Act in the latter part of 2005 created the first elements of doubt. The officials were more focused on the possibility that we might breach our United Nations obligations than that we might offer easy admission to dangerous terrorists.

Government MPs just wanted to bail out and pretend the legislation didn't exist. But a few innocent questions from the humble Member for East Coast Bays were sufficient to establish that New Zealand was taking a very different approach from Australia, and even Canada, in dealing with the threat of terrorism in the post-September 11 environment.

Regular readers will recall occasional installments since that time, directing attention to our failure to designate any terrorists or terrorist organisations under our legislation, so that the authorities could exercise special powers to superintend their activities. Unlike Canada and Australia, we have merely designated the Al Qaeda and Taleban-linked terrorists that have been the subject of a UN Security Council listing.

Despite misgivings about the failure to formally use the legislation, the presumption has remained that informally, at least, appropriate steps must have been taken to protect New Zealanders against the threat of terrorism. And that the agencies responsible for that task would have their very smartest and well-informed officers on the case.

But this week, in the wake of the expulsion of Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, all of those notions were dispelled. The most appalling, but inescapable conclusion became obvious: New Zealand lacks some of the most basic protections against terrorism that we have all, thus far, taken for granted. And some of the key officials responsible for our protection against the threat of terrorism are simply not up to the job.

What Terrorists?

The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 (TSA) was passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Other jurisdictions have broadly similar legislation. Leaving aside any informal lists exchanged by Police, border authorities and other agencies, there are two official lists on which terrorists are officially designated under the Act: First, there is a list supplied and updated by the UN Security Council of Taleban or Al Qaeda-linked terrorists which member nations are required, under UN resolution 1267, to designate as terrorists under their own Acts. Secondly, any other terrorists identified by individual nations (ie: not necessarily Al Qaeda-linked) should be designated under UN resolution 1373. The act of designation makes terrorists subject to special powers on the part of security agencies.

The UN has listed over 450 terrorist entities which have dutifully been designated under the New Zealand TSA. But while Australia, with whom we share a relatively open border has designated a further 88 terrorist entities, and Canada (yes, soft old Canada!) over 50, New Zealand has designated precisely none.

This Week

Concerned that the expelled Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali - a former flatmate and fellow trainee pilot of one of the Sept 11 hijackers - had been able to enter New Zealand without interception, despite being named 13 times in the official report of the September 11 Commission, the humble member for East Coast Bays asked the Prime Minister, on Tuesday, about the designation of terrorists under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

In particular, the Prime Minister was asked about our failure to designate any terrorists other than those handed to us on the UN list. Why had she bothered to ask the Parliament to pass the Terrorism Suppression Act in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks, giving her power to designate terrorists if she had no intention of designating any? New Zealand, we were told, had not designated any terrorists, because the Prime Minister's key advisors in this area, the counter-terrorism officers in the Police, had not advised her to do so.

There, the matter might have rested. Except for the curious decision of Assistant Police Commissioner Jon White to appear on Morning Report on Wednesday morning. The humble Member for East Coast Bays was also due to appear. And when Opposition politicians are fronting, it is the Minister who should be there to defend the Government. But as you will shortly find, there is no Minister within this Government who has the foggiest idea what is actually going on in relation to national security.

Assistant Commissioner White, asserted to be our Prime Minister's right hand man on counter-terrorism, had had nearly a day to update himself on the matters at hand - namely the differences in the brands of terrorists designated by ourselves versus Australia and Canada. At particular issue was the assertion by the humble Member that, in addition to the UN list, Australia had designated a further 88 terrorist entities. What better to person from whom to secure the answers to these important questions than the very man the Prime Minister had told us, was her key advisor (and who must have been in attendance for the discussions on internal security with Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and his officials barely weeks ago).

Assistant Commissioner White told the programme "entities that are listed in Canada and Australia that I think are being quoted here also cover ones that are listed by the UN and have thereby been designated in New Zealand."

Hang on. So White was telling the programme the humble Member for East Coast Bays was totally wrong. And that New Zealanders had nothing to fear because all of the terrorists listed in Australia and Canada were also on the UN list and thereby on the New Zealand list (over which he, Assistant Commissioner White presided).

Alarmed that he was now confronted with two such directly conflicting stories, the presenter, Geoff Robinson, took a sensible precaution:

Again, he asked: "And those 88 and those 50 are part of those 400; is that what you are telling me?"

"Yes, I've checked the websites..", (itself hardly a confidence-enhancing statement from the man who is the Government's repository of all counter-terrorism knowledge) said White.

Couldn't be much clearer than that.

The Commander-in-Chief Goes AWOL

Seeking to clarify the confused mess unloaded by the nation's highest counter-terrorism officer on Morning Report, the Opposition duly filed a further question to the Prime Minister in her capacity as Minister responsible for the Security Intelligence Service. Surely our commander in chief would wish to assure the nation that New Zealand was secure against terrorists. How surprised therefore, they were to receive a call from the Office of the Clerk. The Prime Minister did not want to answer the question because it referred to "other law enforcement authorities" as well as the SIS. Oh well, said the obliging National officials, take that bit out then, to keep the PM happy.

But the Clerk's office rang again. The Ninth Floor flunkies were adamant. The Prime Minister was transferring the question to her Minister of Police. The SIS was not, they explained, responsible for identifying terrorists, or for intercepting them at the border, so the Minister responsible for the SIS could not answer the question. All of which raises the truly excellent question as to what the SIS in fact does if it doesn't concern itself with identifying terrorists. But we digress.

King Blusters and Blunders

Unfortunately for our Government, the Minister of Police, Annette King, is not especially endowed in the intellect department. Her propensity is simply to take what she is given by officials, with no further questions being asked. And such was the case on Wednesday. Advised by Assistant Commissioner White, King told Parliament with great certainty: "there are not 88 terrorists on an Australian list." So there.

How unfortunate for Minister King, and Assistant Commissioner White, that Parliament has recently received a report from its Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on the Terrorism Suppression Act - the result of the brief hearing which first prompted the concerns of the Member for East Coast Bays.

The report could hardly have been clearer:

"The Government has not yet used section 22 to designate any terrorist individual or group that is not included on the UN list."

"By comparison, Australia has listed approximately 88 terrorist individuals or groups under UNSCR 1373 in addition to designations made by the UN under UNSCR 1267."

How very very unfortunate for Minister King and Assistant Commissioner White. And, of course, for the Prime Minister, who had told the House that the reason she hadn't made any further terrorist designations was that Assistant Commissioner White hadn't advised her to do so. Which, of course, he was not about to do. Because he had just told us that all of the terrorists on the Australian list "are listed by the UN and have thereby been designated in New Zealand."

Scary, scary stuff.

Wide Open to Terrorists

The National Party spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Defence holds very strong views about playing politics on matters of national security. In fact the level of bi-partisanship engaged in to date has been enough to have his colleagues running gagging to the bathroom. But on the matter of terrorist designations, he has been banging on in speeches and in articles for months. And by now, it is only reasonable to conclude that asking nicely isn't going to work. So here goes:

We have a serious problem. The September 11 attacks introduced a new and sinister threat to our security. Along with other nations, we passed terrorism suppression legislation to provide a new toolkit for the authorities to deal with the new threat. But unlike other nations, we appear unable to take the next steps required to protect ourselves from the terrorist threat. Apart from passing a piece of legislation, nothing else has changed. New Zealand appears to be wide open to terrorists.

We share a relatively open border with Australia. And whether or not NZ regards itself as a potential terrorist target, Australia certainly is. Since at least 2002, Australia has been using its anti-terrorism legislation to designate terrorist entities in addition to those on the UN list. Armed with these designations, Australian authorities have wide powers to act against such individuals and organisations. Yet in the same time, and with similar legislation, New Zealand has designated no terrorist entities on its own initiative. None of the 88 listed by Australia have been designated here. Given the ease of access from one country to the other, that defies belief. And we must be a source of very great concern to the Australians.

The charitable assumption to date has been that our authorities have been a little slower than the Australians - and possibly hindered by a government which is notoriously politically correct in such matters. The assumption has been that despite the lack of formal actions, informally our authorities have been well resourced, highly skilled and vigilant. And we were wrong.

This week we discovered the following very worrying facts:

- Helen Clark, charged under the Terrorism Suppression Act with making terrorist designations, says she hasn't made any because Assistant Police Commissioner Jon White, head of counter-terrorism, hasn't proposed any.

- Assistant Commissioner White isn't going to propose any because as he told Radio New Zealand he is labouring under the misapprehension that all of the terrorists on the Australian and Canadian list are also on the UN list, and thereby on the New Zealand list already.

- Assistant Commissioner White, the Government's chief advisor on the Terrorism Suppression Act, appears not to have read the report of the select committee on the Act, certainly is not familiar with key facts contained within it, and is therefore rather poorly placed to advise the Government on such matters.

- Assistant Commissioner White appears to have no understanding of the difference between the New Zealand and Australian lists of terrorists, despite an asserted close relationship with the Australian authorities, and a recent visit form Attorney-General Ruddock and associated counter-terrorism experts.

- His boss, Police Minister King, is either too lazy or too thick to have asked him any of the difficult questions she had a responsibility to ask in these circumstances.

- Helen Clark's officials insist that the SIS is not responsible for identifying terrorists or intercepting them at the border, and so she has no Ministerial responsibility for the matter.

- Accordingly, the highest elected official in our land, specifically charged with the high responsibility of designating someone a terrorist under our law, won't front in Parliament and answer questions about what is happening.

All of which is very, very unsatisfactory indeed. But let's look on the bright side. At last we have found something they can't blame the last National government for.

The advice from the worldwide headquarters of Be very very afraid. Oh, and get a new government.


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