Anti-terrorism bill – a can of worms

The terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Centre have succeeded in much more than destroying a building and killing thousands of people.

They’ve panicked Western governments into rushing through draconian legislation, supposedly to clamp down on terrorism, but in reality constraining the civil liberties of us all.

The US Patriot Bill was passed a couple of weeks ago, giving more extensive surveillance powers to the FBI and enabling terrorist suspects to be detained for a week without charge.

In New Zealand major new provisions are being tacked on to the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill, currently before the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee.

I have to be a little careful how I talk about it because in a question in the House yesterday, Lockwood Smith accused me of breaching privilege.

However, the essence of the new provisions have been discussed in public by Phil Goff.

The Minister outlined a broadening of the definition of terrorism, going beyond planting bombs and killing people to damage to property and disruption of infrastructure.

This broadening of the definition can be very dangerous.

According to Phil Goff, causing “major economic loss” is covered in the definition of terrorism.

And as we all know the whole point of a union strike is to cause enough economic loss to the employer, private or public, to convince them to give ground to workers.

Many strikes could be defined as causing major economic loss and disrupting infrastructure, particularly if they are technically illegal, like political strikes or wildcat strikes.

Do we want a society where unionists are considered terrorists?

The process of designating terrorists, as described by Mr Goff, without them necessarily ever being brought to trial, is also a can of worms, and scary to the public.

I remember one Robert Muldoon, who was quite happy to label anti-Springbok tour protesters traitors, and Nelson Mandela’s ANC a terrorist organisation.

If he’d been a Minister allowed to designate which groups were terrorist, many New Zealanders would have gone to jail.

The new provisions are on financing terrorism and recruiting to terrorist groups.

Robert Muldoon could have had people thrown in jail for joining up people to HART, if he designated it terrorist, or for sending money to the ANC in South Africa, if he designated that terrorist.

I mention Robert Muldoon, because law has to be written with the most authoritarian leaders in mind, not the more democratic ones.

When you have broad definitions of terrorism, it depends very much on the politics of the government implementing them who are defined as terrorists and who are defined as freedom fighters.

Would our present government define those who use bombs against Saddam Hussein or the Taleban as terrorists? I doubt. They would call them freedom fighters.

Yet they might label the Tamil Tigers or the Free Papua Movement guerrillas terrorists because New Zealand is friendly to the Sri Lankan and Indonesian governments.

Another problem with anti-terrorism legislation being passed in countries around the world is that so much of the designation of terrorists is being done with secret information, which the accused cannot bring out into the open and challenge fully in a court.

This is a serious fear I have about the anti-terrorism bill before this Parliament.

Because of its potentially huge impact on civil liberties and the right to dissent, it is crucial that the new sections in this bill come under the greatest possible public scrutiny.

It is shameful that to date the government, with the acquiescence of National, is trying to rush this legislation through by Christmas, and only allow selected groups to see the new provisions in the bill, and have the opportunity to put in written submissions.

I have had a flood of messages from people and groups around the country, many of whom support or work closely with the government, who are shocked by this affront to the democratic process.

The want to see the full bill, and many of them want to be able to make submissions on it, and have adequate time to do that. They should have that right.

I hope that the government and the select committee will respond to this public clamour, extend the time for the bills report back, and allow a full and open public submission process.


General Debate speech in Parliament