Cancelling Kiwi passports dangerous and illegal


The government has been criticised on several fronts for cancelling the passports of New Zealander’s wanting to join the rebel forces in Syria.

A New Zealand Herald editorial

said “it seems wrong that a government should cancel the passport of a citizen in any circumstances short of treachery.”

My opinion piece

in last Friday’s New Zealand Herald

challenged the legality of the government’s move, as did

Andrew Geddis

, writing on the Pundit blog.

Under our Passports Act “every citizen is entitled as of right to a New Zealand passport” and having one is necessary to exercise “the right to leave New Zealand” guaranteed in our Bill of Rights.

Going overseas to fight in a foreign war is not a criminal act (unless the person is a mercenary) and, despite what the government says, it is not covered by the Passports Act. (See

my NZ Herald OpEd

for more details).

There are sad historical precedents for Western governments taking away people’s passport for political reasons, most dating back to the Cold War period.

In 1950 the US government

cancelled the passport of Paul Robeson

, then the most celebrated Afro-American entertainer in the world. When Robeson asked the State Department for reasons,

he was told

that “his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries.” Robeson didn’t get his passport back until 1958. In 1960 I was privileged to hear the great singer at a packed concert in Christchurch.

In 1955 the Australian government

refused to replace the lost passport of the famous Australian foreign correspondent Wilfred Burchett

to hinder his reporting and stop him from returning to Australia. Burchett, like Robeson, was deemed to be a communist sympathiser. He was not even allowed back into Australia to attend his father’s funeral. In 1972 the incoming Whitlam Labor government finally replaced Burchett’s passport.

One of the problems we have in challenging our government’s illegal cancellation of New Zealand passports is that the citizens off to fight in Syria are will probably want to keep their heads down and not take the matter to court.

We should keep up pressure on the government over this. The freedom to travel is ever more important for New Zealanders. Nowadays, Kiwis travel frequently as part of their job, for pleasure, or to connect with family members who are often dispersed around the globe.