The Green Party is supporting this legislation, despite its strong objection to the provision for armed air marshals to be on planes. We were disappointed that our amendments to disallow the arming of these inflight security officers were rejected at the Committee stage.
The legislation is good at such things as determining secure areas in airports. However, the endorsement of air marshals shows a general weakness in the approach of this Parliament and of some other Western Parliaments to security questions and how to deal with security risks in the post – September 11 environment. Rather than security provisions being the minimum required to protect the community — as used to be the case in a more relaxed New Zealand — there seems to be the attitude that the more security provisions there are the better. We are losing the balance that should be involved in security measures. On the one hand we want to help keep people safe, but on the other hand we do not want to interfere with people’s freedom of movement, freedom of speech, or bodily integrity.
Security is not about eliminating risk. First, it is about looking at the circumstances objectively to find out what risk there is without taking any further security measures. Second, it is about working out what risk would be acceptable. If there is not much difference between the actual present risk and the socially acceptable risk, then we probably do not need to have any more security measures — in fact, we might even need fewer.
Members should look at our domestic airport checking systems. There has been a little moderation in checking in terms of the length of scissors allowed, etc., but, as far as I can tell, there has not been any real assessment of what the current risk actually is on domestic flights that justifies so much heavier security than we have traditionally had — that is, before the one particularly traumatic event overseas in 2001. We should always remember that there were many, many more aircraft security incidents around the world in the 1970s and 1980s than there were in the 1990s or have been this century. There were many hijackings in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, but we did not have such intrusive airport checking as a result. To my knowledge there has not been one serious security incident in New Zealand in the 6 years since 11 September 2001 on an international flight in and out of New Zealand, let alone on a domestic flight.
The mindset of absolute security can be quite damaging and inhuman. A few weeks ago I was passing through the security check at Auckland domestic airport, followed by a mother with a little boy aged about 3. The toddler was carrying a little soft toy dog through the X-ray system and it beeped. The officer grabbed the soft toy dog and ran the scanner over it while the little boy balled his eyes out. I thought: “This is craziness. Have we lost all sense of proportion when we needlessly cause a little kid such grief?”.
I am now used to putting anything in the little tray that might set off the security beeper when I go through the security door. But many travellers are not used to doing this, so they have to go through the indignity of a closer body scan or pat-down. Maybe people are getting used to this security screening, but I still think that it is somewhat demeaning. Excessively severe security measures are not in synch with the free spirited, independent, risk-taking Kiwi personality. I said that Kiwis were risk takers, because I think we are amongst the world leaders in risk taking. Our most respected citizen, Sir Edmund Hillary, is a renowned risk taker as he is the conqueror of Mount Everest and he made an overland trip to the South Pole. Our All Blacks are admired for being big risk takers who will risk injury if necessary, yet our Government wants more and more security measures against the minute risk of a terrorist incident here — and it is minute.
The reality is hidden behind the propaganda of global terrorism, which is a mythical concept. There is no such thing as global terrorism; it does not exist. There is only non-State terrorism in specific countries, which is a result of those countries’ political or economic problems or their often wrong foreign policies. Most countries in the world are not subject to non-State terrorism and do not need to bother themselves much about it. That is the reality, which has been proven by objective facts. In any case, State terrorism is the greater problem, as we ourselves have discovered, with the only terrorist-related problems we have had being the French State terrorism against the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour; Israeli State terrorism, when it tried to obtain fake New Zealand passports — quite likely to carry out the political assassinations for which Mossad is notorious — and, more recently, the Chinese Government hacking into our Government computers.
In America, Britain, and Australia there is some danger of non-State terrorism, and that danger is increased by their Governments invading Iraq. But there has been a gigantic security overreaction. I was in Sydney just over a week ago at a big protest to get APEC to take a stronger line on climate change and against the war in Iraq. It was a surreal atmosphere. Thousands of police had been mobilised with riot shields, water cannons, barriers, and buses to arrest hundreds of people. The police were very provocative. They took a banner pole off a gent near me — his banner read: “Cage Bush, not Sydney” — because his banner pole was over a metre long.
As the leaders of the demonstration that day had repeatedly said, it was going to be a peaceful demonstration, and it was. The protestors responded to these police State – type measures with good Aussie satire. Banners read: “Show us your water cannon, Big Boy!”, and “Arrest all comedians!”. That last slogan referred to the jokesters who took a car disguised as a Canadian diplomatic car through police checkpoints with a dressed-up Osama bin Laden inside. Those comedians fooled the system and all of the Aussies cheered them. In reality, if we have over-the-top security we only challenge people to have a go at breaching it.
The Draconian character of the APEC security measures was never really about enhancing security. It was all about demonstrating power — the power of the Howard Government and the power of the State behind him, with mobilised armed forces and police. It was about the creation of fear in society, which has been a major feature of the so-called war on terror that has been operating in Western countries since September 11. The more a society becomes fearful, the more people will accept the stronger State, greater surveillance of their lives, and a weaker judicial system. Of course, that helps right-wing political forces more than progressive ones, and it helps people like John Howard to get elected.
That is why it is so great that John Howard’s over-the-top scaremongering about APEC riots fell flat on its face. That is why it is so good that the terrorist slanders against Ahmed Zaoui were finally disproved, and that last week the Security Intelligence Service, after nearly 5 years of hounding him, finally admitted that it had got it wrong. The SIS and all those forces that have bought into the war on terror — including, unfortunately, our own Government — needed a real live terrorist to justify all the extra security measures it was bringing in here and all the extra spending on the SIS, the Government Communications Security Bureau, and police counter-terrorism. The only problem was that there were not any terrorists in New Zealand — and still there are not — so they had to deem an innocent man, Ahmed Zaoui, to be the fall guy. Hopefully, we can learn something from all this and get back to a more relaxed Kiwi style where, through strong, informal community life, we look after each other rather than rely on a strong security State.
Excessive security measures, supposedly to confront some terrorist danger, intersect with excessive angst in other areas of our life. We are developing what some have called a risk aversion culture. It is quite at odds with the traditional relaxed Kiwi culture. We find it more difficult to accept risk and to accept accidents. When kids are playing, sometimes they hurt themselves and sometimes they kill themselves. But instead of accepting that that is life, that we have the occasional accident, as we did in the past, there is now more of a tendency to wrap kids up in cotton wool. When a mentally disturbed person kills someone, politicians and the media descend to label blame, when often, actually, nobody is to blame. When we put mentally disturbed people, rightly, into the community, occasionally one will lose control, someone might get injured, and someone might get killed. But that is an acceptable risk to take, if we are to be humane to people who are mentally disordered. Let us go back to the more relaxed Kiwi way of doing things and actually take a few risks.