New Zealand’s Counter-terrorism Strategy: A Critical Assessment

Authors: Battersby, J., Ball, R., & Nelson, N.
Published in National Security Journal, 23 June 2020

protest’ was not enough. It is wishful thinking to assume that further divisive political issues will not create similar catalyst platforms in the future. No matter how genuine the government is in seeking an engaged and inclusive society, the reality is that a range of issues will cause differences, perhaps even polarise society, including the apparently ineffectual measures taken to combat climate change, the continuing use of 1080, the legalisation of abortion, the gun buy-back, the predicted severe economic disparity post-COVID 19, and the assumption that everyone will, or should, accept multi-culturalism as a positive goal in an age of identity politics.

The experience of Western Europe, especially post-war Germany, and post-colonial France, Belgium and others have highlighted that carelessness in managing multiethnic and multi-cultural diversity can lead to parallel and disjointed communities, where newcomers co-exist with established populations, prompting insecurities (and perceived threats to identity) among all groups. The French colonial legacy with Algeria in the second half of the twentieth century, was partly behind the susceptibility of its minority communities to ISIS inspired terrorism in the mid-2010s.38 More recent concerns have emerged in Sweden, which in 2015 took more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe and was observed to lead “to racial tensions and integration issues in Swedish towns and cities and, worryingly, an increase in homegrown far-right, racist and xenophobic groups.”39 The rise of Right Wing Extremism in Europe and the US has been noticeable over the past two decades.

New Zealand deliberately avoided multi-culturalism after World War II, embracing it genuinely only in the early twenty-first century.40 But New Zealand’s diversity came quickly. In 2016 the city of Auckland was considered more diverse than Los Angeles, New York and London, with 39% of its inhabitants born overseas. While other cities were proactive in managing lesser levels of diversity, New Zealand was described at the time by migration expert Paul Spoonley as having a “very relaxed and relatively non-interventionist approach” which until then at least “appeared to be working”.41 Read slightly differently, this suggests New Zealand was actually doing nothing about confronting the potential challenge of diversity and instead relied on the well-known “she’ll be right” principle and hoping for the best. In 2020 an Auckland Council report revealed that half of Aucklanders viewed “ethnic and cultural diversity” negatively, suggesting that problems that have already surfaced in Europe may indeed be coming to roost here.42 The concentration of many émigré refugee communities into single areas within particular suburbs over the last 30 years may have been done with the best intentions, but the medium-to-long term consequences were never given sufficient consideration from socio-economic, much less security, perspectives. The COVID 19 crisis prompting huge numbers of ex-pats to return home is unlikely to aid better relationships between peoples of different nationalities.

Complicating the social inclusion goal is the incongruity between New Zealand’s increasingly bi-cultural approach in public policy (which could have been remarkably