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Terrorism Suppression Bill: What Govt Wanted

15 May 2002


New Document Reveals What The Government Really Wanted In The Terrorism Suppression Bill

Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey has secured the release of the original amendments to the Terrorism Bill (dated 25 October 2001) which the Government attempted to push through without public scrutiny late last year.

These differ significantly from the amendments that were released for public submissions after Green MP Keith Locke went public on the issue.

‘In recent years successive governments have extended the powers of New Zealand’s security agencies in the name of “national security” and the “national interest”, supposedly to protect our democracy. These proposed amendments are probably the most anti-democratic attempt to do so, both in their substance and process. Presumably if Keith Locke had not blown the whistle, and risked contempt of Parliament in doing so, the Government would have proceeded and these amendments may well have become law’, said Professor Kelsey.

‘The procedures proposed here were simply outrageous. A person or group within and outside New Zealand could have been designated as a “terrorist” or “associated person” solely on the say of the Director of the SIS.’

While the Minister of Foreign Affairs would formally make the designation, the Minister could have been blocked from knowing any of the reasons, or even taking notes on what he was told. The Minister was then prohibited from passing on that information, even to the Prime Minister.

‘These amendments would have given the unelected head of a security service that has an appalling record of errors and failure to operate within the law the power to strip people of both their property and liberty’.

‘It was essentially a matter of “trust me”. There were no rights to judicial review. There was only a requirement for a secret review by the Inspector General of Security, an office whose own track record on such matters provides no reassurance whatsoever’, Professor Kelsey observed.

The substantive offences which the document proposed were similar to those in the version which the Select Committee released. This includes the controversial definitions of terrorism that were only partially addressed by the Select Committee.

One major difference was the definition of a ‘terrorist act’. The 25 October version would have captured an even wider range of routine protest and union activities, giving the Director of the SIS power to define such people as terrorists.

Anyone who participated in, recruited members for or funded, directly or indirectly, groups that engaged in those activities could have been imprisoned for up to 14 years. Paradoxically, some of that wording has crept back into the Bill as reported back by the Select Committee.

‘To make matters worse, the Government wanted to smuggle these amendments through the select committee and by-pass proper public scrutiny by piggy backing on the existing Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill.’

‘Their only concession to consultation was to seek confidential submissions from a handful of handpicked groups. The Minister even initially refused to name who these groups would be. No one outside the Select Committee would have known what criticisms had been made or how much notice the committee had taken,’ Professor Kelsey said.

Four months after the Minister for Foreign Affairs Phil Goff was asked for the document under the Official Information Act, he is still prevaricating.

‘Securing this document has been a saga of obfuscation and obstruction by Phil Goff’s office. At one stage they even denied that another set of amendments existed. Clearly the Government didn’t want it released, at least until the second and third readings of the Bill were over’, said Professor Kelsey.

This blockage was circumvented by a ruling from the Clerk of the House that the document is no longer subject to parliamentary privilege. The Clerk then released the document to Professor Kelsey.

Some serious questions need to be answered: Why was the Minister so reluctant to have this document released? Why the urgency back in October 2001, given that the revised amendments have still not had their second and third readings by May 2002? Why were these amendments redrafted once the government knew they would become the subject of public submissions? Who was promoting them and what does that say about ministerial influence over the select committee process? Would National have supported them in the secret select committee deliberations? Or Act, New Zealand First or the Alliance?

Contact: Jane Kelsey: (09) 3737 599 x8006 (wk); (09) 579 1030 (h) 021 765 055(m)

20 QUESTIONS FOR THE POLITICIANS . . .

1. What reason was there for the original secrecy, other than keeping such controversial measures out of the arena of public debate?

2. Why was there such urgency back in October 2001, given that the reported back Bill has still not had a second and third reading in May 2002?

3. Why were these amendments redrafted once the Government knew they would become the subject of public submissions and scrutiny?

4. Why was the Minister so reluctant to have this version released?

5. Who was actually promoting this version?

6. What does that say about ministerial influence on select committees?

7. Was the Cabinet consulted and did it approve of these powers?

8. Was the Alliance consulted and did it approve these powers?

9. Was National consulted and did it approve these powers?

10. Would the Government have proceeded with these amendments if Keith Locke had not blown the whistle, risking contempt of Parliament?

11. Who devised the list of groups to be secretly consulted?

12. Why was the CTU not on the original list of ‘confidential submitters’?

13. Why were Maori never on the list to be consulted?

14. Would the Government have proceeded with the original amendments if those confidential submissions had opposed them?

15. Would MPs or anyone else outside the Select Committee ever have known what those handpicked groups had said and what notice the Select Committee took of their confidential submissions?

16. Would National have supported these original amendments at the select committee and if they were reported back to the House still in this form?

17. What about Act?

18. New Zealand First?

19. Peter Dunne?

20. Or the Alliance, especially if that would have defeated the amendments?


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