Gerry Brownlee's comments on refugees branded 'incredibly dangerous' by Golriz Ghahraman

A National MP's suggestion that terrorists could "hide themselves in refugee numbers" coming to New Zealand has been described by a Green MP as "incredibly dangerous".

Gerry Brownlee, the National Party's foreign affairs spokesperson, made the comment in Parliament on Wednesday during the committee stage of the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill. 

"We are slowly opening our borders to more and more people who come from countries where they could hide themselves in refugee numbers," the National MP said. 

Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party's foreign affairs spokesperson, said Brownlee's language "puts an entire group of people like refugees into that position of being villainised as terrorists".

Asked if she was implying Brownlee's comments were racist, Ghahraman said: "Yeah."

She described his language as "incredibly dangerous", telling Newshub: "New Zealanders have told us after Christchurch after that terror attack that they don't want that kind of politics anymore."

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway posted a video of Brownlee making the comments on Twitter, with the caption: "What did Gerry Brownlee mean when he said this tonight?"

Brownlee told Newshub he is "certainly not racist" and described Ghahraman's comments as "over the top" and "alarmist".

Ghahraman said she raised her concerns with Brownlee, and he confirmed that to Newshub. 

Ghahraman, who moved to New Zealand from Iran as a refugee, said Brownlee assured her it wasn't his intent to come across as anti-immigrant.

But she said, "I think we all need to pause, especially as public figures, and ask what is our impact - and the impact is that he's made those communities feel unsafe".

Brownlee said his comments in Parliament referred specifically to Mark Taylor, the "Kiwi Jihadist", who lived with Islamic State extremists in Syria before being jailed in a Kurdish prison.

The law will allow police to apply to the High Court for control orders to be imposed on New Zealanders involved in terrorism - like Taylor - returning home. 

The law was sped up after it became more of a reality Taylor could return to New Zealand, following reports that hundreds of Islamic State prisoners escaped from a detention facility in Syria. 

Brownlee argued in Parliament the law is too weak, pointing to changes the Greens successfully negotiated in order for Justice Minister Andrew Little to secure their support. 

Those changes include human rights protections for those who the control orders are imposed on.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Newshub

Ghahraman made sure the use of secret classified information cannot be used against a suspect without the information being disclosed to a legal advocate assigned to defend the accused.

The Greens also recently secured a mandatory two-year review of the law, guaranteed that suspects have access to legal aid, and stopped a proposal by National to authorise 72-hour airport detention.

"I'm proud of the fact we've stopped that from happening and secured significant additional protections for the right to justice," Ghahraman said.

Brownlee described the legislation as "very, very weak", and said it "gives the benefit of the doubt to terrorists who turn up on the doorstep".

The anti-terror law has been contentious from the beginning. Talks descended into name-calling and bitterness between the Justice Minister and National leader Simon Bridges after they couldn't agree on changes.

The Justice Minister told reporters on Thursday he couldn't provide an update on how likely it is that Mark Taylor could return to New Zealand any time soon.

"There is always a risk... it's such a fluid situation in Syria, so anything could happen at any time." 

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill officially became law on Thursday afternoon. 

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