Counter-Terrorism Measures Undermine Our Civil Liberties

The Greens have grave concerns that the counter-terrorism measures mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech will do more to undermine our civil liberties than to catch terrorists.

Our prime concern has been the major amendments to the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill that could criminalise protest in New Zealand because of the very broad definition of “terrorism”. We are also worried that it could catch people who support what they believe to be liberation movements, like the Tamil people in New Zealand who support the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

The Greens believe that New Zealand has a big role to play as a peacemaker, as we did in Bougainville and as we could do alongside Norway in Sri Lanka. There is now a ceasefire in Sri Lanka after a long war in which both Government forces and the Tamil Tigers have committed terrorist acts. For New Zealand to designate the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation, as Australia and America have already done, would only undermine the peace process under way there.

The extra money being given to the intelligence services, supposedly for counter-terrorism, is also a worry. Both the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau are unaccountable organisations.

There is no terrorist problem of any great consequence in New Zealand, and there is a legitimate fear after the Aziz Choudry case that the new money could go on extra surveillance of legitimate dissenters.

The police interrogation of a Petone man, Tahir Ali, adds to that fear. The police later claimed that they had interviewed him in relation to the anonymous threat to the New Zealand Golf Open. However, the only apparent reason Mr Ali was interviewed is that he had written a letter to the Evening Post criticising the SAS. He has no criminal record.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act does not allow dissenters to be harassed in this way.

The policing of the Golf Open was a huge overreaction to the anonymous threatening letter. Over 400 police were used. They were brought in from all over the country.

The Government seems to be panicked by the anti-terrorist hysteria generated out of the United States, and this has also had negative consequences for the rights of asylum seekers in New Zealand, most of whom are now, unlike before, being imprisoned or detained in either Mount Eden Prison, a remand prison, or the Mangere Refugee Settlement Centre when they arrive in New Zealand.

The Prime Minister’s speech is misleading on the asylum-seeker situation. It says that 80 percent of asylum seekers were found to have no genuine claim. In fact, more than half of those claiming asylum at New Zealand’s borders are granted refugee status. We must exclude from the statistics the many visitors to New Zealand who, on the advice of immigration consultants or lawyers, have claimed asylum some time after they arrived in this country just so that they could stay here longer because the processing time for asylum seekers has been so long. Sometimes it has been up to 3 years.

As this processing time is shortened, this problem will disappear.

We have a duty under Article 14-1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to welcome asylum seekers into our country. It is not a burden but an international duty to extend the hand of hospitality and refuge to those who have suffered so much in their home country.

We do not want to imitate the Howard Government with its inhuman, anti-refugee policies. It is bad enough that we are detaining most asylum seekers arriving in New Zealand, even if we are not doing it in desert camps like the Australians are.

Around the world civil liberties are under threat as Governments take advantage of the post September 11 anti-terrorist hysteria to give greater surveillance and detention powers to police and intelligence agencies.

In fact, such measures do not reduce the danger of terrorism; they increase it. The more that people feel constrained by the State, the more likely they are to rebel against it.

What we have to concentrate on is removing the causes of terrorism, which the Prime Minister’s speech does refer to but only in passing.

For example, bringing justice to Palestine would go a long way to undermining international terrorism, but the leader of the so-called “war against terrorism”, George W Bush, is going in the opposite direction. He has backed up Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s hard-line stand that has only made things worse for the Palestinians.

The Bush-led war against terrorism is to a large extent a fraud. It is more a war against the domestic and international opponents of the Bush administration.


Debate – Prime Minister’s Statement, Parliament