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Chris Ford: New anti-terrorism laws are un-necessary

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The Government's Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill is really un-necessary.

This legislation will grant our intelligence agencies and police greater surveillance powers than previously and permit the cancellation of alleged foreign fighters passports for up to three years - an increase from 12 months under current legislation.

The increased surveillance powers are of particular concern, especially those permitting warrantless surveillance by the police or Security Intelligence Service for up to 48 hours in what are vaguely defined as 'urgent' or 'emergency' cases.

There is no doubt that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (known as ISIL) is gaining foreign recruits. However, I can only believe that this legislation has been sitting around, if not for years, then at least in the minds of intelligence and policing agencies who were simply looking for an excuse to introduce such powers. I believe the rise of ISIL has given them the perfect opportunity to persuade Government to enact them.

I think this legislation also has a populist edge to it in that the public have been overexposed to a daily diet of ISIL horrors - and undoubtedly ISIL are brutal and callous - but it must be remembered that any of us have a greater chance of being struck by lightening or being run over by a bus than being subjected to a random terrorist attack in our own backyard.

Also our existing laws already give intelligence agencies and the police wide powers that can be utilised to surveil potential terrorists and fighters on our soil. Honestly, I don't think they need any more powers than they already have. I think it's now getting to the point where civil liberties are being endangered to the point that, one day, public opinion might begin to swing against further such intrusions. Already, we have seen some of that sentiment come through during last year's GCSB Amendment Bill debate when the Government extended its powers to spy on personal data. However, governments are able to assauge such fears with the simple mention of the word 'terrorism' but they shouldn't push their luck on continuing to use that excuse for too much longer.

So, if we're really serious about defeating terrorism and groups like ISIL, I think as I have said before that we need to offer ways to defeat its ideology not solely through military means but also through encouraging the different sectarian communities of Iraq and Syria to engage with one another. Besides, New Zealand should use its international reputation to help broker at least a ceasefire in Syria and Iraq as well as help enforce an arms and financial embargo on all warring parties (including ISIL).

Here at home we should encourage more positive and constructive engagement with the Muslim community who are being subjected to increasing Islamophobia in the form of verbal and other attacks against them. Islamophobia, in fact, helps radicalise the few who are already vulnerable within that community in that they may become enticed by the siren call of ISIL. We can and should do more to ensure that anyone who is identified as vulnerable by the authorities isn't just slammed into a prison cell either but are offered counselling and support to turn them away from being recruited by movements like ISIL. Furthermore, through the passport removal power, we may reject fighters who return home after becoming disillusioned and who may wish to rehabilitate here in New Zealand.

And one more thing - will this legislation apply to foreign mercanaries - those who fight and die for private armies for money? Now, to my recollection, I haven't heard of anyone who has had their passports cancelled and citizenship rights curtailed simply because they fought for a private army which was, say, serving Western interests in some way? Just a thought there as, otherwise, this legislation will be merely targeted at the Muslim community to the exclusion of others who may fight for money in illegal armies around the world.

For all these reasons and more, I call upon Government to withdraw this legislation. Surely we can use the remaining legislative time to counteract greater threats to our future such as child poverty and climate change. The reality is, though, that Government will continue to push this legislation through to appease its allies and for purely political ends. And it won't do a thing to stem terrorism or conflict in the world.

 

 

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