A History of Violence: A Critical Overview of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Approach to Terrorism

Author: Le Gros, Lydia1 

Published in National Security Journal, 21 March 2023

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20230321.06 

Download full PDF version – A History of Violence: A Critical Overview of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Approach to Terrorism (294 KB)


On 15 March 2019, Brenton Tarrant fired indiscriminately at congregants as they gathered for prayer at the Linwood Islamic Centre and Al Noor Mosque in Christ-church, New Zealand. The media labelled the event New Zealand’s “loss of innocence” and its first experience of terrorism; MPs across the house described the attack as foreign and imported.1 However, there are various incidents in New Zealand’s history prior the Christchurch attacks that arguably also fit the definition of terrorism but have not been officially identified or charged as such. The government’s selective use of the terrorism label suggests that in the case of terrorism, phenomenally similar actions may be labelled differently depending on the identity of the perpetrator and the perspective from which the action is described. In order to understand how the government decides whether an act is a case of terrorism or not, this article traces the evolution and social context of New Zealand’s counter-terrorism legislation from the early colonial period to the Christchurch attacks. In doing so, this article finds that in New Zealand, terrorism has been routinely framed as the fault of foreigners and cultural outsiders. This suggests that the official definition of terrorism in New Zealand is not constant or objective, but is instead guided by historical conditions which make political sense of the current terrorism reality.

Keywords: New Zealand, Terrorism, Legislation, History, Colonisation

1 Lydia Le Gros is an Assistant Research Fellow at the School of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington. While her background is in politics, international relations, and cultural studies, she is currently pursuing research on how counter-terrorism and social cohesion is approached in Aotearoa New Zealand.