National security changes have Parliament divided

  • 06/11/2014

The Government is seeking broad agreement for legislation that will increase the powers of the Security Intelligence Service and strengthen ministerial authority to cancel passports.

A debate in Parliament on Wednesday revealed how difficult that's going to be, NZ Newswire political columnist Peter Wilson writes.

When the laws are in place, and the Government wants the bill passed by Christmas, the SIS will have the same surveillance powers as the police.

It will be allowed to carry out video surveillance involving trespass on private property, and it will be able to carry out emergency surveillance for 48 hours before a warrant is issued.

The minister of internal affairs, currently Peter Dunne, will have the power the cancel passports for three years. At present, passports can be cancelled for one year.

He will have emergency power to cancel a passport for 10 days, considered necessary to stop someone from leaving the country at short notice.

Prime Minister John Key explained the Government's reasons for requiring these law changes in his national security speech on Wednesday, which was followed by the debate in Parliament.

He talked about the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), the terrorist organisation rampaging through parts of the Middle East with appalling brutality.

He revealed five New Zealanders were already fighting with ISIL in Syria and the SIS had a watch list of up to 40 individuals. Some had tried to leave but their passports had been cancelled.

Another 30 or 40 required "further investigation".

"We do not want to have a reputation for exporting foreign terrorist fighters to places which already have more than enough of them," said Key.

"And should they return to New Zealand fully radicalised and skilled in fighting, they would represent a significant threat to the safety of New Zealanders."

He told his audience, and later parliament, that there were individuals in New Zealand "who are attracted to carrying out domestic attacks of the type we have seen prevented in Australia and recently take place in Canada".

Key may well be able to take the Labour Party with him when the bill comes to Parliament.

He has briefed its senior MPs, and they're cautiously supporting his intentions.

They won't commit themselves to backing the bill until they see it in black and white, and they're likely to insist on provisions that ensure the new powers can't be abused.

The Greens, the third largest party in Parliament, will almost certainly oppose the legislation.

Co-leader Russel Norman has accused Key of trying to frighten people in an attempt to justify erosion of their civil rights.

The party's human rights spokeswoman, Catherine Delahunty, had this to say: "John Key is using a war overseas to increase spying in New Zealand. Any removal of civil and political rights needs to be a citizens' consensus... the government cannot be trusted to be left to its own devices."

She didn't explain how a "citizens' consensus" could be achieved.

And she may have overlooked the election result, which gave Key's government responsibility for, among other things, national security.

NZ First is likely to support the legislation but the Maori Party, although it has a support agreement with the government, isn't expected to agree to it.

It is still traumatised by the 2007 Urewera "terror raids" which took place after a year of surveillance, and will need a lot of convincing that the new powers are justified.

NZN

source: newshub archive