Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill – First Reading


The Green Party is disappointed that the Government has come forward with the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill. We are disappointed because the Government is not taking account of the much greater awareness now, compared with in 2002 when the Terrorism Suppression Act was passed, that there has been an international overreaction in anti-terrorism measures. There is a recognition now that many of the anti-terrorist measures driven out of the United States have detrimentally affected human rights. We see an almost universal revulsion at the treatment by the United States of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, where due process has been very limited. A common concern of the critics has been that the executive branch of Government has been given excessive power to determine whether people or groups are terrorists, with little judicial constraint or due process.

Instead of saying: “Whoa, we haven’t gone as far down the repressive track as America, Australia, and Britain.” — and that is good — this bill is actually bringing us closer to those countries. For example, when the Terrorism Suppression Act was being debated in 2002, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee went to great lengths to make sure the judiciary could review the Prime Minister’s terrorist designations 3 years on. This bill destroys all that work with a new provision that the executive branch, in the form of the Prime Minister, will review its own designations. All that remains in the bill is a general power of judicial review — something common to ministerial action in a range of fields — which applies really only in points of law and is very difficult, time consuming, and expensive for anyone wrongly designated as a terrorist.

The section of the bill to automatically transfer the United Nations list to the New Zealand list also takes out any opportunity for due process to apply. Previously, there was a common-sense qualification that the transfer would be automatic “in the absence of evidence to the contrary”. It would be the height of injustice for New Zealand to possess incontrovertible evidence that a New Zealander had wrongly been designated a terrorist by the UN yet still put that person on the New Zealand terrorist list and consequently have all of his or her property seized. Yet that is exactly what this provision in the bill proposes to do.

It is well known that the UN process, whereby the Counter-Terrorism Committee designates terrorist entities, is seriously flawed. It operates entirely on the basis of the committee trusting that Governments have correct information when they put forward entities for inclusion on the list and that these Governments are not influenced by prejudicial political agendas. Any person or group challenging its own inclusion on the UN terrorist list has two hurdles in its way if it wants to get off the list. Firstly, it has to get a Government to back it, which means, given that most of the designations are from America, that the Government needs to be confident enough to take on the superpower — which is not a lot of Governments.

The Swedish Government tried to get three of its citizens of Somali origin off the list but had only partial success after a long-drawn-out process. To get a personal group off the list, there has to be a consensus of Governments, including the United States, which is not easy. There has been an attempt by some European Governments, such as Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, to have a fairer listing and de-listing process on the counter-terrorism committee, with some ability to test evidence, but this initiative has not gone very far.

The problem the UN has faced all along, which is why it has never come up with a clear definition of terrorism, is that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. We all know that the Muldoon Government called Nelson Mandela a terrorist and that New Zealand Government officials labelled the East Timorese under Xanana Gusm