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

By the end of Muldoon’s term, New Zealand’s CT efforts had stalled; legislative needs appeared wanting, but the domestic context was not seen as sufficient to justify change. Consequently, no draft proposals were progressed before the 1984 election.

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

1984 – 1999: The Rainbow Warrior and International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act

There is little evidence of interest in terrorism by the David Lange-led government, which came to power in 1984, until the sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour. The attack by French Secret Service agents on 10 July 1985 required the government to invoke the PSCA for the first time in 36 years – the very piece of legislation that Labour had promised to repeal in its election campaign.40 A week following the attack, the Prime Minister’s Department acknowledged that “the nature of the threat has diversified and is more likely to involve New Zealand. We must be able to cope with a greater number of more sophisticated possibilities.”41 These possibilities included hostage situations, kidnappings, bombings, assassinations and economic sabotage.42 There was a political ‘need’ to repeal the PSCA, however, the legislative problem was that the Civil Defence Act 1983 (CDA) “contained a definition of national emergencies which did not include terrorist acts.” Although it did not eventuate, it was proposed the CDA be amended to include the definition of terrorism contained in the NZSIS Act 1969. This definition is of note given it captured inchoate offences; “planning, threatening, using or attempting to use violence to coerce, deter, or intimidate” the government or community for political aims.43 Interestingly, while media coverage did not appear to impact the Rainbow Warrior operation, the CCOT was at this point advised of the “very limited powers to control information disseminated by the media during a terrorist emergency” that had previously captured Prime Minister Muldoon’s attention.44

On 10 October, the Prime Minister’s Department recommended Cabinet “reaffirm New Zealand’s commitment to the struggle against international terrorism” through taking “an active role in the international arena on the question of terrorism.”45 Cabinet com­mitted, New Zealand acceded to and ratified numerous UN Conventions, endorsed the guiding principles of the European Community on State Terrorism and Abuse of Dip­lomatic Immunity, urgently updated New Zealand’s extradition treaties and legislation, and ensured other domestic practices surrounding the apprehension of offenders were responsive to the international legal environment.46 The Prime Minister David Lange considered that “while New Zealand has been reasonably active on terrorism issues at relevant international meetings, there is scope for further improvement.”47