Christchurch mosque attacks: ACT, National, Greens respond to agency 'failings' following Royal Commission inquiry

The ACT Party is calling on the Government to deliver "practical and honest solutions" following the Royal Commission's inquiry into the Christchurch mosque attacks.

The report was publicly released on Tuesday and identifies how New Zealand wasn't ever immune to a terrorist event. It found the risk of a terrorist exploiting New Zealand's loose gun controls was identified as far back as 2011 and there was also an inappropriate concentration of resources before the attack.

However, 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.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday the Government will implement all 44 recommendations contained in the report, which include ensuring a minister is given responsibility and accountability to lead and coordinate the counter-terrorism effort and creating a new offence to criminalise planning or preparation for a terrorist act.

ACT leader David Seymour says "practical and honest solutions", not "knee-jerk reactions", are needed moving forward from this report.

"Beyond rhetorical leadership we need positive, practical problem solving," he said.

"The Government must honour the victims and uphold the standards all New Zealanders expect from those who administer our laws by getting the public policy response right so this sort of tragedy never happens again."

He says since the shooting on March 15, 2019, the Government has responded with "the opposite of good public policy" and made "premature, ineffective and divisive" law changes.

Even though the Government announced it has already accepted all 44 recommendations in the report, Seymour says "being seen to be doing something isn't good enough" and new agencies shouldn't be created without holding the existing ones to account.

"Today's report is full of examples of government agencies not coming up to scratch, and in some cases not being even close, the Police in particular."

Christchurch mosque attacks: ACT, National, Greens respond to agency 'failings' following Royal Commission inquiry
Photo credit: Getty Images

The report found New Zealand's gun licencing was "lax" and "open to easy exploitation". Police Commissioner Andrew Coster apologised after the inquiry found there was a lack of coherent and complete guidance for processing firearms applications where a near-relative referee could not be interviewed in person, and that training and review processes were not adequate.

"We accept that, in trying to assess whether the individual was fit and proper to hold a firearms licence, we could have done more to consider whether the two referees knew the individual well enough to serve as referees," Coster said.

The Australian-born terrorist - who has been convicted of terrorism, the murder of 51 people and attempted murder of 40 people - is now serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

Despite having almost no history in New Zealand after arriving from Australia in August 2017, his application for a gun licence was approved within about three months, the Royal Commission findings say.

He had named his sister as a referee but, because she lived in Australia, firearms licencing staff asked for a replacement referee. In the end, two New Zealand-based referees - an adult and their parent who have not been named but are described as "friends" - vouched for him.

Seymour says all the agencies that needed to exist already exist, "they just needed to discharge their duties better".

"ACT doesn't believe creating more government is the solution. Creating better government is the solution," he said.

"That's why the Government should also be brave enough to disregard recommendations, no matter how well-intentioned."

Christchurch mosque attacks: ACT, National, Greens respond to agency 'failings' following Royal Commission inquiry
Photo credit: Getty Images

National Party leader Judith Collins also says particular systems and agencies "could have, and should have, performed better", and adds the Opposition is ready to work with the Government to ensure they learn from the attacks.

"In principle, we support strengthening the role of our security and intelligence agencies but we must tread carefully to safeguard New Zealanders' rights and liberties," she said.

"We cannot end up sacrificing our liberal democracy, otherwise we will end up with the sort of New Zealand this terrorist was trying to create."

She said National supports moves by police to improve training and firearms licence vetting, but more needs to be done to get guns out of the hands of criminals.

"We have shown that, as a nation, we are not prepared to give in to fear, we are not prepared to tolerate extreme hate, and we are not prepared to let anything like the wickedness that took place on March 15 ever happen in New Zealand again."

Christchurch mosque attacks: ACT, National, Greens respond to agency 'failings' following Royal Commission inquiry
Photo credit: Facebook / Golriz Ghahraman

The Green Party says the "outpouring of love" shown after the attacks towards the Muslim community means New Zealanders expect the report to be taken seriously, agencies will be held accountable, and victims' rights will be made real.

"The report spoke of long-running frustrations from affected communities with the public service, who they felt did not properly listen to or support them. Now is the time to fix these systems which may have tacitly allowed their victimisation," the party's human rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said.

"I am heartened to see the report acknowledged many of the existing flaws that impact these communities. This includes the fact that counter-terrorism services disproportionately targeted Muslim communities rather than threats by far-right terrorism faced by that community. If resource had been properly allocated to combatting far-right terror, who knows where we would be today."

A summary of the report's findings says the New Zealand Intelligence Service decided to concentrate its "scarce" counter-terrorism resources on the "presenting threat of Islamist extremism".

Ghahraman also acknowledged police "failed" to meet standards of firearms administration and licencing and said the Government needs to implement changes to ensure this doesn't reoccur.

"Most importantly, we must listen to those impacted as to whether the recommendations fit the needs and expectations of the affected community," she said.

"If communities and victims are asking for different solutions or more than what is recommended in the Royal Commission, whether that be compensation, accountability or transparency, we must listen with an open ear and respond accordingly."

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