Christchurch shooting: No one to blame but the terrorist himself - Judith Collins

Judith Collins says there's no one to blame for the atrocity carried in Christchurch last year but the man who fired the guns.

Fifty-one people lost their lives when a gunman opened fire at two mosques on March 15, 2019. This week the results of a royal commission of inquiry into the attack were released, which concluded he acted alone and covered his tracks well, with little opportunity for security agencies to intervene beforehand. 

"What's really clear is that this terrorist was not on anyone's radar - in terms of, wasn't involved in online groups," the National Party leader told The AM Show on Wednesday.

"He was just basically a lone wolf, a lone wolf terrorist, and therefore it sounds - from what we've seen of the report - that there was really no opportunity for someone to say 'this is this guy who's about to do something', or 'he's thinking about it'."

The commission found rather than being in regular contact with other far-right extremists, the gunman was radicalised almost entirely by videos on YouTube.

"Many of us felt, given his right-wing views, that he may have had links with other groups - but you have to respect the amount of research that's gone into this report, and one of the findings is that he was acting alone," said politics and international studies professor Robert Patman of the University of Otago.

No one is expected to lose their jobs, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying the report "found no failures within any Government agencies that would have allowed the individual's planning and preparation to have been detected".

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt disagreed, telling Newshub the report exposed systemic failing on an unprecedented scale.

"Failures in capacity in Government, in capability within Government, failure of policies, failure of institutions, absence of data." 

Dr Patman said the Muslim community might also beg to differ.

"There is definitely a sense of frustration in the Muslim community that they had repeatedly warned Government agencies and there was considerable frustration their warnings fell on deaf ears." 

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

Gun legislation

The Government has agreed to implement all 44 recommendations contained in the report, including:

  • setting up a new agency for intelligence and security and a single point of contact for the public to report suspicious behaviour
  • doing more research into extremism
  • introduce mandatory reporting of firearms injuries to police (the gunman receiving medical care after having accidentally shot himself in 2018)
  • creating new hate-motivated offences in the Summary Offences Act 1981 and Crimes Act 1961
  • classifying "racial superiority, racial hatred and racial discrimination" as objectionable in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

It also recommended tightening up the lax firearms licencing regime which allowed the terrorist to amass his arsenal.

"There are things around the gun licencing that clearly were an opportunity, but also around this guy having shot himself or injured himself - there was an opportunity there too," said Collins.

"But none of these things - I think it's really important to remember not one of these agencies actually caused him to do what he did. He chose to do it himself. I do think it's really important not to just try and think there's systemic blame and whatever. Obviously, there are some things that need to be fixed, but this person is the perpetrator and has to take the responsibility."

Collins said the previous National Party-led Government tried to tighten New Zealand's gun laws, but "couldn't get support in Parliament to do it".

In 2017, then-Police Minister Paula Bennett rejected most recommendations on tightening gun laws made by the law and order select committee, pleasing the gun community but angering police. National did support the changes which came in the wake of the Christchurch attacks.

"I think New Zealand, we've been a little bit thinking that we are the bottom of the world, nobody cares, you know, nobody's going to be doing anything to attack us, we don't go out as a country and offend people," said Collins. 

"I actually think that you can see the trouble that I had when I was the Minister of Justice to even bring in search and surveillance laws - there was marching in the streets and carrying on. My predecessor Simon Power couldn't get it through. We got it through in the end, but you'd think that we were trying to bring in some form of police state...

"That's the sort of atmosphere it was, and don't forget it was also post the Operation Eight Urewera raid - there was some hysteria around surveillance and what was going on with our agencies." 

Gun Control NZ spokesperson Philippa Yasbek said the report was pleasing, but was disappointed it didn't recommend a gun register.

"We think it's a really important measure to go alongside the restrictions on semi-automatic firearms, and a register would certainly help reduce the flow of firearms... It's really quite sad that we're unable to identify risks ahead of time and do things to mitigate them. We often end up waiting for the tragedy to happen before we're able to fix things."