Christchurch mosque attack: Royal Commission of Inquiry into shootings paints a picture of how NZ wasn't immune to terror event

A hefty report into the Christchurch mosque attack paints a picture of how the risk of a terrorist exploiting New Zealand's loose gun controls was identified as far back as 2011.

However, the report also found there was no information that pointed public agencies to any potential terror attack before March 15.

The Government has publicly released the Royal Commission of Inquiry report into the attack, less than two weeks after receiving it. It has found there was an inappropriate concentration of resources before the attack, while police failed to meet the required standards. 

But public agencies have been cleared of any failure of information sharing. The inquiry found the only information that could have alerted them was the email gunman Brenton Tarrant, who's only identified in the report as "the individual", sent eight minutes before carrying out the attack.

"The public sector agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort did not fail to anticipate or plan for the terrorist attack due to an inappropriate concentration of counter-terrorism resources," a summary of the report's findings says. "The New Zealand Intelligence Service had decided to concentrate its scarce counter-terrorism resources on the presenting threat of Islamist extremism."

New Zealand implementing the Royal Commission's recommendations will result in better counter-terrorism efforts, the report says. The Government says it will implement all of the recommendations.

What the report is recommending - at a glance

  • Improve NZ's counter-terrorism efforts

  • Improve NZ's firearms licensing system 

  • Support the ongoing needs of affected whānau

  • Improve NZ's response to an increasingly diverse population

"Strong Government leadership and direction are required to provide effective oversight and accountability of the counter-terrorism effort," the report says.

Repeal and amend the Human Rights Act

The Royal Commission recommends repealing the Human Rights Act to "insert a provision … for an offence of inciting racial or religious disharmony, based on an intent to stir up, maintain or normalise hatred, through threatening, abusive or insulting communications with protected characteristics that include religions affiliation".

Christchurch mosque attack: Royal Commission of Inquiry into shootings paints a picture of how NZ wasn't immune to terror event

As per the report's recommendations, the Human Rights Commission will get more funding to help tackle hate speech, while wrap-around services will be provided for those affected. A National Centre of Excellence will also be created to research radicalisation, violent extremism, and social cohesion. 

'New Zealand will never be immune' 

The Royal Commission found despite the failings of the firearms system and many improvements needing to be made, there was no information that pointed public agencies to any potential terror attack.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has apologised for several failures identified in the report.

"The Royal Commission found no failures within any Government agencies that would have allowed the individual's planning and preparation to have been detected but did identify many lessons to be learned and significant areas needing change," she said.

But also addressed in the report is how successive Governments had been reluctant to have a public-facing strategy.

Had there been a strategy, there may have been policy to make crowded places safer and protect possible targets from attack, the report says.

In its executive summary, the Royal Commission addressed that New Zealand will always be vulnerable to a potential attack.

"New Zealand will never be immune from violent extremism or terrorism," the report says.

"Even with the best systems in the world, a determined would-be terrorist could carry out an attack in New Zealand in the future."

'Lone actor'

The inquiry found the individual who carried out the attack, Brenton Tarrant, was a "lone actor" who took advantage of New Zealand’s lax regulation of semi-automatic firearms.

According to the report, the risk a terrorist could exploit loose gun controls was identified as far back as 2011.

Flowers and messages of condolence to victims of the mosque attacks are seen at a memorial outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 21, 2019. New Zealand has banned the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons after the country's worst-ever attack that killed 50 people in two mosques last Friday, 15 March.  (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But the report found there was no significant tightening of the regime - largely because of strong opposition from the firearms community.

"The risk that highly lethal weapons might be used in a terrorist attack in New Zealand had been recognised on a number of occasions," the report says.

"One warning followed a terrorist attack conducted in Oslo and on Utoya Island in Norway in 2011, in which a semi-automatic rifle was used."

Recommendations accepted 

The Government has accepted all 44 of the Royal Commission's recommendations.

Immediate changes are being put in motion, with Andrew Little put in charge of coordinating the Government's response to the report.

A new national intelligence and security agency has also been recommended, as has mandatory reporting of firearms injuries by health professionals.