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

extremism.125 This, in partnership with the strengthened HRC mandate, could go part of the way in driving a more proactive approach.126

Fifthly, there is an underlying trend of complacency towards terrorism. Initially, the Muldoon-era system considered the strategic publication of its operational readiness transformed New Zealand from a soft target to one “better prepared” than others. This initial assessment was shattered by the Rainbow Warrior bombing, with Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer reflecting that the sinking was “the end of innocence” for New Zealand.127 The exact same sentiment was shared by the media following the Christchurch terrorist attack in 2019. This research considers that New Zealanders felt such a collective shock to Christchurch due to decades of lacklustre public messaging. Terrorism has only ever been discussed as an international threat, even the domestic attack on the Rainbow Warrior was discussed in international terms due to the involve­ment of France. Developments between 2001 and 2007 all had 9/11 and UNSC reso­lution 1373 as driving factors. At the heart of the CTFL and the Control Orders Bill are Foreign Terrorist Fighter’s, the key word being ‘Foreign’, although they are actually domestic – but are ‘foreign’ to the country in which they’re fighting. Even in Prime Minister Key’s noted 2014 national security speech, the terrorist risk emanating from ISIL was expressly described as being less for New Zealand than for our neighbours. The ongoing noting of the Christchurch attacker’s Australian citizenship has arguably signalled that the attack, while domestic, was brought here by an outsider. The only genuine example of meaningful dialogue on domestic terrorism in New Zealand’s his­tory was arguably during the third reading of the TSAA, following the release of the SG’s statement on Operation-Eight. Successive governments’ lack of genuine consistent proactivity about its terrorism legislation has cumulatively sent a message to New Zea­landers that terrorism is not an issue of significant concern.

Finally, this study has shown that no one political party is responsible for New Zealand’s CT legislative ‘framework’ such as it is. While Labour-led governments have developed more CT legislation, this has largely been down to the timing of events and the issuance of international obligations rather than proactive effort; the Rainbow Warrior, 9-11, Operation-Eight and Christchurch all occurred under Labour-led governments. History suggests that if roles were reversed, similar legislative products, would have been pursued by National-led governments, especially if required by international obligations. Even while in opposition, National has generally voted in support of CT legislation, with the exception of the Control Orders Bill. Conversely, Labour also voted in support of the CTFL Bill, despite expressing disdain for National’s process. In 2019, the Greens supported terrorism legislation for the first time when it voted for the Control Orders Bill. As such, this shows that reform of New Zealand’s CT legislative framework can be a shared goal of all New Zealand political parties to ensure our legislation is fit-for-purpose , if only they would show more proactive interest in doing so.