From Hijackings to Right-Wing Extremism: The Drivers of New Zealand’s Counter-terrorism Legislation 1977 – 2020

Author: Webb, Sheridan1

Published in National Security Journal, 09 April 2021

https://doi.org/10.36878/nsj20210409.04

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Abstract

New Zealand is currently faced with the need to address extensive recommendations from the recently completed report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on the Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019 (RCOI). The RCOI was not tasked with reviewing New Zealand’s terrorism legislation, but it has commented among its recommendations on the need for relevant national security legislation that is fit-for-purpose and empowers and resources security services appropriately. This paper outlines New Zealand’s counter terrorism legislative chronology, exposing historic themes of slow law making, political disinterest and reactive and incomplete solutions. If New Zealand is to address the RCOI recommendations, it will need to break with previous approaches to legislating terrorism and boldly pursue a new more proactive narrative.

Keywords: Terrorism, Counter Terrorism, International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act, Terrorism Suppression Act, Christchurch terror attack, Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill, Foreign Terrorist Fighters.


Introduction

In November 2020, the release of the highly-anticipated report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on the Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019 (RCOI) reenergised government focus on countering violent extremism. This article seeks to historically contextualise the legislative status quo ahead of what may be wider reform efforts, and in so doing, assist informing those efforts. It does this through focusing on what has driven past change and development in New Zealand’s legislation that relates directly to terrorism. It chronologically analyses New Zealand’s approach to legislating against terrorism across five key periods: (1) the original establishment of formal counterterrorism machinery commencing in 1977, (2) New Zealand’s response to the Rainbow Warrior bombing in 1985, (3) the attacks of 11 September 2001 (9/11) and the development of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, (4) the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/IS/ISIS or Daesh) and the emergence of the foreign terrorist fighter issue, and (5) the reaction to domestic right-wing extremism and the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters after ISIL’s reverses from 2017. This study finds that New Zealand’s legislation is highly reactive, driven by the need to fulfil international obligations and responses after the fact to significant events. The government legislative approach is underscored by a lack of appetite to consistently review and revitalise its legislation to ensure it meets developing challenges and a sense of complacency towards the risk of terrorism. Despite ongoing distractions stemming from COVID-19, opportunities for change are afoot. The question now becomes whether the New Zealand Government will turn over a new leaf in its counterterrorism effort, or whether it will continue to shy away from the work required to make meaningful change.

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1 Sheridan Webb completed her Master of International Security through the Centre of Defence and Security Studies, Massey University in 2020. Her dissertation formed the basis of this article. Sheridan would like to acknowledge Dr John Battersby for his astute supervision of this dissertation and his enthu­siastic support for its inclusion in the National Security Journal, Women and Security issue.