General Debate – peaceful political action

I wish to address the issues raised by the police arrest of 17 people on arms charges and possibly further charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

I wish first to say that the Green Party is totally against the use of violence in the pursuit of political aims. One of the four principles in the Green Charter is non-violence.

The Green Party cannot pass judgement on the guilt or innocence of those charged. The evidence has yet to be brought before the court, and tested there.

However, we are concerned about talk of using the Terrorism Suppression Act in these cases. It is an Act we opposed when it was brought in back in 2002, just as we oppose the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Act currently before the House.

Any offence that those arrested could possibly have committed is already covered under the Crimes Act, or other criminal legislation. The Crimes Act covers everything from planning violent acts to criminal conspiracy to being a member of a criminal group.

To use the Terrorism Suppression Act is to say that committing crimes with a political motivation is a worse thing than doing them for percuniary advantage (as in the armed robbery of a bank) or for other selfish reasons (as in the violence and intimidation conducted by gangs).

Also, to single out those who use force to achieve political goals, and charge them under terrorism laws with heavier penalties than if the crimes had been non-political, tends to tarnish those who are trying to achieve similar political goals. For example, both violent individuals and a peace group might have the same aim of saving a rainforest, or helping Maori hold on to some land.

Having a special category of politically motivated crime can also create an atmosphere that very peaceful political groups somehow spawn violent extremists. The peaceful groups then find themselves facing unnecessary hostility, and sometimes undue harassment and surveillance by state agencies.

Rather than being reservoirs of violence, community groups are the seedbeds for peace.

The fact that we are nuclear-free today and didn’t go into the Iraq war is to a large extent due to the years of hard work by peace groups, and many, many community organisations.

We must always welcome the diversity of issue groups, NGOs, and community groups in New Zealand, of all sizes and complexions. They are the life blood of our democracy. Parliament is an important platform for political debate, and we are the technicians of legislative change, but the driving force of progress in New Zealand is our active civil society.

Now and again individuals who have been active in peaceful community organisations go off the rails — but that is not new, and in no way a reflection on the peaceful nature of community groups.

It happened in 1960s when the Bower brothers went to prison for blowing up an air force depot in Auckland to protest the Vietnam war.

It happened again during the 1981 Springbok tour when someone sabotaged a microwave link used for broadcasting the rugby tests.

Individuals from any political organisation, right or left, can go off the rails.

But they are less likely to contemplate violent solutions if the institutions of the state are known for their respect and tolerance of dissent, and of the work of community groups.

Over the past few days there has been concern expressed by Tuhoe elders, and leaders of community groups in Wellington and Christchurch, that the raids were conducted in a way which did not show sufficient respect.

The Police do have a bit of explaining to do as to why they inconvenienced so many Tuhoe to arrest a well-known public figure, Tame Iti, at his Ruatoki home.

And they could have shown a bit more patience in Wellington before smashing glass and breaking into 128 Abel Smith St, which the Police knew was a well-used community house, and they also knew that it was the residence of Sam Buchanan and his family, Sam being a long-standing and respected activist on peace and social justice issues.

We can learn something from these events. Let us not be hasty in putting a terrorist label on someone, and let us use this opportunity to endorse the passion of the thousands of peaceful political activists in our society, from anarchists to conservatives.