Prime Minister John Key has announced new temporary legislation that allows passports of suspected foreign terrorist fighters to be cancelled for up to three years.
Mr Key made the announcement in a speech to address New Zealand's stance on Islamic State (IS) – the terrorist organisation wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq.
"IS exposes us to a type of threat that we lack both the legislative tools and resources to combat," says Mr Key.
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The Prime Minister today said there are around 30 to 40 New Zealanders on a security intelligence watchlist who are perceived as a potential terror threat or are involved with IS.
"These are people in or from New Zealand who are, in various ways, participating in extremist behaviour," says Mr Key.
Of those on the watchlist, Mr Key believes a "significant number" are New Zealand-born.
He says there are at least five Kiwis currently fighting in Syria, and nine passports have been cancelled.
There are a further 30 to 40 people in New Zealand who "require further investigation", many of which are in Auckland.
There are several New Zealanders who have already travelled overseas to fight for IS, and others who have tried and failed after their passports were cancelled.
"We do not want to have a reputation for exporting foreign terrorist fighters to places which already have more than enough of them," says Mr Key.
"We have an obligation to ensure New Zealanders are safe at home or abroad."
Cabinet has signed off on several proposals for short-term security-related law changes, as well as a $7 million funding injection for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) so it can employ more staff to monitor and investigate potential terror threats in New Zealand.
The legislation allows the Minister of Internal Affairs to cancel passports on the grounds of national security for up to three years, when previously it could only be done for 12 months.
The period a passport can be cancelled for can also be extended, and will allow the holder to seek a judicial review of the Minister's decision.
Mr Key says it would be rare for a New Zealander's passport to be cancelled for more than a year.
IS currently has recruited around 12,000-15,000 foreign fighters, including up to 3000 who hold western passports from a range of countries.
"The rise of such a well-resourced, globally-focused terrorist entity, highly skilled in recruitment techniques utilising social media, is a game changer for New Zealand," says Mr Key.
The proposed legislative changes would also allow the Minister of Internal Affairs to suspend a passport or travel document for a temporary period of no more than 10 working days.
"This power would be used in circumstances where urgent action is required but time is not available to prepare a full package of information to support a cancellation. It would allow agencies to take action to prevent foreign fighters from travelling should information come to light late in their planning phase."
The Government is also proposing to allow the SIS to be able to undertake video surveillance of potential terrorists in New Zealand.
Currently the SIS cannot install video cameras in a private premise, even if it is for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, like people training with weapons.
Mr Key also wants the SIS to be given emergency surveillance powers for a period of no more than 48 hours, where it can conduct urgent surveillance before a warrant can be issued.
The Government wants to pass the temporary changes so they can be implemented before the Cricket World Cup in February.
Labour MP Phil Goff believes the 48 hour window is of concern, and should be used in "extraordinary circumstances" and should be ratified by the minister in charge as soon as possible which should take much less than two days.
The changes would also have a sunset clause, meaning they would cease to have effect after a specific date unless extended. Mr Key says the clause allows for a wider review of New Zealand's security services, and the legislation will also go through a truncated select committee process.
Labour has indicated its support for the changes based on the briefings it has had, but will not cast its vote until it fully understands the proposal.
"The select committee process is truncated and that's a pity, but it does give us a chance to give us some amendments to balance any additional power with safeguards for ordinary New Zealanders," Mr Goff says.
He disagreed with Mr Key when he said the international threat level was getting worse and says the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda, which happened when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, is worse than IS so far.
Fellow Labour MP David Shearer hoped the threshold for removing someone's passport and the level of evidence against them would be high.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says the party is against any form of military presence, including a training role.
"It is our view that the war effort will not result in peace, it is a strategy without an end point and has a low chance of success," she says.
Any military assistance should be seen as a contribution to the war effort, she says.
source: newshub archive