Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill

Sue Kedgley on Behalf of Keith Locke:

I am delivering this speech on behalf of the Green Party spokesperson on human rights, Keith Locke. He prepared this speech but he is unable to be here. The Green Party will not be supporting this bill even though it does contain some good and useful measures.

The bill continues a trend in other legislation dealing with so-called national security or anti-terrorism matters, which is to take away the prosecution and punishment of people from the judicial processes and put it into the hands of Government officials — in this case — the Minister of Internal Affairs.

Under this bill, the Minister can refuse to issue a passport to a New Zealand citizen and even take away an existing passport on grounds of “national security”. We see this as very dangerous. The Government will try to assure us that this is all fine and dandy and that this power will be used only against those planning serious offences, such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and unlawful activity designed to or likely to cause devastating or serious economic damage to New Zealand, etc.

But surely a New Zealander doing something seriously unlawful should come before a court and should not be dealt with outside of it by a Minister who has the power to take away his or her passport? When I have asked about this I have been told: “Well, the State might not have enough evidence to get a conviction in a court.” That is exactly the problem we are seeing around the world, at the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay where politicians and their appointees give themselves the right to judge and punish people outside of a judicial process. This is something we should not tolerate here.

Another argument given to us is: “Some national security accusations can’t go before a court, because the information we have is classified and the overseas jurisdiction we got it from won’t allow disclosure in any court”. Therein lies a serious problem. We are even more aware today how the intelligence services we get most information from — American, British, and Australian — make significant mistakes, because sometimes they are serving political agendas: either their own or those of the Governments they serve.

There is a dangerous provision in this Act allowing so-called classified information against a New Zealander whose passport has been taken away on national security grounds, to be withheld from him or her in subsequent appeal proceedings before the High Court. Having a passport is a fundamental right of New Zealand citizenship and should not be mucked around with in this way. Sure the person affected has a right to appeal to the High Court but this would be a long, involved and costly process during which the person’s overseas travel plans would be suspended. It does not justify giving the Minister the power to take away our passport, instead of us being charged in a criminal court if we do something criminal or conspire to do something that is criminal.

There is an additional problem, in that the definition of who is a terrorist in the Terrorism Suppression Act is somewhat loose and could be applied to New Zealanders who support liberation movements overseas. The liberation movements led by Nelson Mandela and the East Timor leader would have qualified as terrorist organisations in that those involved launching major destructive action against the State, and even armed actions. The African National Congress put bombs in Government facilities.

If we remember back to the 1970s and early 1980s the Muldoon Government of the time regarded anti-apartheid leaders like Tom Newman and Trevor Richards as traitors, particularly when they went to conferences overseas and attacked Muldoon’s collaboration with the apartheid regime. Newman’s and Richards’ international travel could well have been curtailed, if the then Minister of Internal Affairs had the power to take their passports away, as this bill gives the current Minister power to do.

Let us not say we are just being fanciful here: we have seen supposedly democratic Governments do this. In the 1950s the US Government took away passports of its critics, including respected persons, such as Paul Robeson, on the grounds that he was a communist sympathiser and a threat to America. We are not suggesting that George Hawkins, the current Minister, would start taking away the passports of Kiwi dissidents, but legislation has to be written with future, less tolerant Governments in mind.

Several provisions in the bill seem to be driven not from any proven New Zealand need but by a desire to do what bigger Anglo-Saxon countries do. These other countries are driven to impose excessive restrictions on people as part of their so-called war on terrorism. There is no demonstrated need to extend the qualifying period for citizenship from 3 to 5 years. To add insult to injury it has been made retrospectively, which is something legislation should embody only in exceptional circumstances. In this case any changes to the qualifying periods should only apply to people arriving after the passage of the legislation, at least.

Changes to the qualifying period most detrimentally affect New Zealanders with foreign-born spouses, and the spouses themselves whose qualifying period will go from 2 to 5 years. There was, and still is, a strong argument for spouses to be given preference in terms of a qualifying period. New Zealanders can be severely handicapped when they travel abroad if their spouse comes from a country — usually a poorer country — whose citizens have difficulty getting a visitor visa, often to countries where a New Zealander has visa-free entry. A 2-year qualifying period helps overcome this problem and should not be departed from.

There is no good reason, either, for a legal requirement that new citizens take oath or affirmation of allegiance at a public ceremony. The practice is desirable, and most new citizens are happy to go through such a ceremony, but why does it need to be written into law? Kiwis do not mind publicly demonstrating their patriotism, and we do it well at rugby tests but we do not like to be told we have to do it. The legislation of public citizenship ceremonies has an American showy “hand on heart, salute the flag” whiff about it. We all know where the super-patriotism, or false patriotism, of the Americans has got them — that is, into all sorts of unnecessary wars.

The bill also makes it unnecessarily tough to grant citizenship to a resident who has a minor conviction. Someone committing even the most minor offence in the last 3 years is excluded from citizenship, unless there is a special exemption from the Minister. We believe that the law should be more flexible in this. There are some security arguments for reducing the currency of New Zealand passports from 10 years to 5 years, but it is going to be a hassle for many New Zealanders, particularly those who happen to be overseas when their passport expires. However, I do not think we should fool ourselves that this is much protection in itself. Good police work, like that which led to the apprehension of two Mossad agents, is the way to protect our passports.

Finally, we wish to discuss a provision that is not yet in the bill, because the Minister has indicated he may add it later via a Supplementary Order Paper to the bill. This is a provision to take away the automatic citizenship granted to people born here if they are born of people who are not New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.

This automatic right of citizenship is a longstanding right, which applies in some other countries as well. It guarantees that babies born here of visitors or migrants never end up as Stateless and that they are provided for properly while in New Zealand, as our Government is committed to do under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We should only take away this right if we have good reason, and none has been provided yet. Some women were coming here, we are told, to exploit free maternity services, but this avenue has been blocked off. One or two other women have visited here to give birth, with them paying the cost, to give their babies New Zealand citizenship, but that does not amount to a problem that would cause us to change our law. In some ways we should be flattered that people think so highly of us that they will move here for this purpose.

There are too many unnecessary provisions in this bill, and ones that are offensive to our civil liberties, for the Greens to support it.

I am sure that many people have, as I have, watched the film that is beginning to screen nationwide tonight of Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 9/11. We hear a lot in that film about the Patriot Act and the erosion of liberties in the American nation under the Bush administration. We should not be complacent. Some of the provisions in this and other legislation that has slipped through this House in recent years have eroded our individual civil rights and increased the surveillance of the State. This is something that the Green Party is totally opposed to.


Parliament – First Reading