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

While there is not space here to discuss New Zealand’s interactions on the Rainbow Warrior in­cident in detail, statements made at the UN,48 the 1985 criminal prosecutions of the two agents who were caught, the UN Secretary-General’s 1986 ruling to settle bilateral issues between New Zealand and France,49 and the subsequent 1990 UN arbitration arrangement concerning the fate of the imprisoned agents were the source of much criticism of the Lange Government.50

Within this fraught context, the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Bill 1987 was developed. In the Bill’s third reading, Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer stated that the Bill was intended to replace the PSCA, and that “there should be no misunderstanding that the Bill is aimed at anything other than internationally motivated terrorism, because it is becoming increasingly evident that that is where the danger from terrorism lies.”51 The Labour-led government was clearly hesitant to consider the possibility of domestic terrorism due to concern that discourse would encompass domestic protest, especially since the 1981 Springbok Tour protests (which Labour generally supported) were still a recent memory. Finally in response to overwhelming opposition to media censorship provisions, the Government “decided to rely on voluntary censorship rather than compulsory censorship.”52 This was despite control over the media being the key concern of officials.53 The very limited development that emerged as the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act in 1987 was therefore primarily motivated by the desire to be seen as acting definitively on terrorism, particularly as public opinion on the handling of the Rainbow Warrior began to sour. The period can be seen as important as witnessing a previous theoretical threat into a genuinely tangible one. In 2005, reflecting back on the Rainbow Warrior incident, Geoffrey Palmer recalled “it was the end of innocence” for New Zealand.54 Despite this, little had actually changed legislatively. Only 4 years after the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act was passed, the Law Commission recommended its repeal, in favour of general policing powers.55 The Act has never been used.

1999 – 2008: 9-11 and the Terrorism Suppression Act

Under the Helen Clark Labour-led government, New Zealand began its second foray into terrorism specific legislation with the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill. As the name suggests, the Bill was borne from international conventions that aimed to suppress the financing of terrorism and terrorist bombings.56 Previously, UN conventions had been implemented through an Order in Council under the United Nations Act 1946, however stand-alone legislation was preferred as the financing convention was “the first in a new breed of conventions” that built upon the existence of nine situation-specific conventions.57 These conventions also required serious penalties which would be inappropriate to implement via a regulations process.58