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

Author: Webb, Sheridan
Published in National Security Journal, 09 April 2021

The CTFL is comparable to the TSA as it also directly responds to international obligations and international events. However, while foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) are intrinsically related to terrorism, the CTFL Bill was strictly focused on intelligence and internal affairs powers, and did not amend the TSA.110 Government also deferred difficult conversations on the definition of FTFs, through reaffirming the TSA’s definition of terrorism and its centrality to New Zealand’s approach to terrorism. This can be inferred from the following statement; Hon. Christopher Finlayson commented in the Bill’s Second Reading that,

the question has been raised about whether the term “foreign fighter” re­quires a definition. The Government’s view is that the term does not need a specific definition in the bill. … The definition of “terrorist act” in sec­tion 5 of the TSA already provides the definition required. That definition is the core concept on which this legislation relies; adding a definition of “foreign fighter” would be superfluous.111

This was asking a lot of a problematic definition that had not been fully reviewed since its inception 18 years previously. It is difficult to imagine a clearer need or opportunity than the emergence of ISIL and UNSC 2178 to review the TSA but this was not taken despite the Key Government’s investment in progressing intelligence and security leg­islation, and that terrorism was the driving force behind the raised national security threat level. But still, the 2012 review of the TSA was not rescheduled. Probably the most obvious sign of the Key Government’s disinterest, was that no steps were taken in anticipation of the return of FTFs to New Zealand, and that questions relating to their management and potential prosecution were reserved for subsequent governments. This issue remains urgent, as on 16 February 2021 a dual-national New Zealand woman Suhayra Aden previously associated with ISIS and whose Australian citizenship was revoked, was reportedly apprehended crossing from Syria into Turkey.

2017 – 2020: Right-wing extremists and returning foreign terrorist fighters

The Jacinda Ardern-led Coalition Government has faced two major terrorist challenges in its first term; firstly, New Zealand’s most prolific terrorist act, the 15 March 2019 at­tack on Christchurch mosques, and secondly, the circumstances surrounding returning FTFs. This issue had been largely fuelled by media interest in the potential return of Mark Taylor, a New Zealander jihadi who had travelled to the Syrian conflict and been subsequently captured by Kurdistan forces.112 The legislative responses driven by these events are well known; New Zealand amended its firearm legislation, passed the Terror­ism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill 2019 and set the terms of reference for the RCOI. There has also been a wider policy response, which is out of scope of this assessment, but involves the release of a CT strategy and the Christchurch Call to Action.