Andrew Little feels 'dicked around' by National Party on proposed anti-terror law

The Justice Minister feels he is being "dicked around" by the National Party over a proposed law that would impose restrictions on returning New Zealanders involved in terrorism. 

Andrew Little confirmed he met with National leader Simon Bridges on Monday and that they discussed the changes National wants before it will give its support for the proposed law. 

Little said on Tuesday he has felt "a little dicked around" by the National Party, after it offered unconditional support for it, but later put forward a number of recommendations that would "strengthen the legislation". 

"They were briefed on this Bill back in July when we decided we would do something," Little said, offering a timeline of National's engagement on the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill.

"They got the Bill the week before last, they had it for a week, they made their decision to support it to first reading, [and] at the time they told us that they didn't have attached conditions, and on that basis we introduced the Bill.

"After that they then tried to seek conditions. I've met with them to talk about that, and so far they haven't indicated whether or not they'll support it... So frankly, I do feel a little dicked around by them."

Bridges rejected Little's description, telling reporters on Tuesday the "situation is quite clear". 

"We had a meeting yesterday, it was pretty unproductive, we left that meeting to consider our position, and we've now had a number of phone calls from his office saying quite different things than what he said in the meeting."

Bridges said he's "not going to let New Zealanders be half-safe when it comes to terrorism". 

He said Little seems to be focusing only on a small number of threats raised by intelligence agencies, and Bridges believes the scope of the Bill needs to be wider. 

"There are many unknowns here that we need to safeguard." 

Justice Minister Andrew Little.
Justice Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Getty

Little announced the proposed law last week which would give the police the ability to apply to the High Court to impose control orders, or restrictions, on New Zealanders who have engaged in terrorism overseas. 

It was developed in response to the situation in Syria, where earlier this month, hundreds of Islamic State (IS) prisoners reportedly escaped from a detention facility in the country's northeast.

The law would protect New Zealand from the likes of Mark Taylor, the "Kiwi Jihadist", a New Zealander who lived with IS extremists in Syria for around five years, and earlier this year surrendered to local forces and was jailed in a Kurdish prison. 

The new law would apply to any situation in which a New Zealander is "directly engaged in terrorism overseas or facilitated or supported others to do so".  

Control orders impose conditions such as electronic monitoring, restricted internet access, restricted association with some people, meeting with police twice a week, and rehab or reintegration. 

National outlined the changes it wants to the Bill last week, including extending control orders beyond six years, and lowering the age limit from 18 to 14 years old.

Little said last week some of the changes put forward by National "look like dumb politicking". 

But last Thursday he said there was a "couple of issues" raised by National that were "worth exploring", such as ensuring the control orders will capture those convicted of a terrorist offence in New Zealand. 

Mark Taylor, known as the "Kiwi Jihadi".
Mark Taylor, known as the "Kiwi Jihadi". Photo credit: File

Little said on Tuesday there were "about four points that I went back to them on, that I said would be useful to make some changes to the Bill on" - but he didn't say which points they were. 

He said after those points were relayed to the National Party, "they came back and said, 'Oh, we want more', so that's where we're at, at the moment". 

"I guess what I'm disappointed on is that this is a matter of national security," Little added. "It's a pretty obvious, credible, risk that could come on our shores any time in the next few months.

"I don't think it would sit easily on anyone's conscience when we go into the Christmas break and we do not give our police the means to deal with any of these small groups of people who could be going back into New Zealand at any time in the next few months."

National leader Simon Bridges.
National leader Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Newshub

The Government's coalition partner New Zealand First is supporting the Bill, but its confidence and supply partner the Greens will not. 

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is concerned about the "human rights implications" of the Bill. She said last week she feels existing criminal laws in New Zealand already cover "everything that needs to be covered to keep us safe". 

Ghahraman went so far as to describe the legislation as "dog-whistling", which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pushed back on, saying she believed the Bill strikes the right balance. 

Little said people can "judge what they like" about the Greens, but said at least they have had a consistent position on the Bill. 

"They have said from the outset that they won't support it even though I've had conversations with them about it too."