New Zealand Labour Party

Response to Ministerial Statement on ISIS

Mr Speaker, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for the opportunity for the House to respond to his statement today.

It’s times like this Parliament can be at its best.

A time when politicians can show New Zealanders that reasoned and constructive debate is possible on issues of national and international importance.

The speech given by the Prime Minister this morning and his statement to the House regarding his Government’s legislative response and aid and diplomatic effort to combat the atrocities occurring in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, warrants our serious consideration and full debate.

Security at home – protection of New Zealand citizens ­­- must always be a top priority for any government, security on the street, in our home, our workplaces, our schools, and so on.

New Zealanders expect governments to take necessary measures to protect them and their families from preventable danger within the bounds of reason and within our obligations under domestic and international law, human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law.

New Zealand has a proud record in upholding fundamental freedoms, and the role of law we have, as a country, manages to balance the need for security and the respect for human rights.

At times that balance can be difficult and hindsight is used to look at decisions made after the event.

Today people are expecting Parliament to get the balance right. To arrive at a response to the growing unrest and violence by ISIS that is calm and proportionate.

The Opposition’s role is to be questioning and to be vigilant

The legislation announced today seeks to extend the powers of the SIS to investigate and monitor people who may be a threat to our security.

The provisions are to be parallel to those currently available to the Police provided under the Search and Surveillance Act which would enable visual surveillance in private places.

The powers of the SIS are to be extended to authorise surveillance activities to be undertaken in an emergency, without warrant for a duration no more than 48 hours.

There must be safeguards to prevent abuse and appropriate warrants should be issued as quickly as possible in these rare circumstances.

We would not want to see the 48 hours become the minimum or the standard operating procedure, as has been seen by Government action in release of OIAs recently. For example, waiting until the legal time is up before releasing the information.

If the Prime Minister is not available within 48 hours to approve the warrant then there has to be an alternative available.

We will examine these provisions very carefully at the Select Committee to ensure safeguards are in place to minimise potential abuse of the extended power.

The legislation will also provide powers to disrupt and restrict travel by those seeking to fight alongside designated terrorist groups.

The right to free travel by New Zealanders is a precious one.

But clearly there are grounds where restrictions can be justified.

A person intent on engaging in terrorist acts, or seeking to join with organisations which are committing crimes against humanity, are such grounds.

The United Nations Security Council in Resolution 2178 of 24 September 2014 expressed grave concern about the acute and growing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters:

-       At those who attempt to travel to become foreign terrorist fighters; and

-       At the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters

New Zealand needs to heed those grave concerns and put in place appropriate measures.

However, the cancellation of a passport while a New Zealander is overseas cannot be undertaken lightly.

It will be important that any New Zealand citizen where this happens is issued with travel documents so they can return to New Zealand immediately.

It would not make sense to render a person stateless and increase their potential to re-engage with a terrorist group.

Labour broadly supports the provisions as outlined and believes they appear to be justified to ensure safety at home as well as meeting our international obligations.

As I said, our role is to be vigilant, to closely examine the Bill at the select committee and ensure the measures are workable, necessary, and framed appropriately.

After what has felt like decisions being made on the drip feed, a snippet here, a clue there, and hint dropped over there, today we have finally seen a glimpse of Government contribution to the conflict cause by ISIS.

The Foreign Minister has announced humanitarian support for refugees from Syria and Iraq, and ramped up diplomatic efforts to address the rise of ISIS – we support such measures. It is clear to use, New Zealanders support such an approach rather than front line troops or even SAS troops fighting in the front line.

If the next step by the Government is to decide on military involvement, I think it is also very clear that majority of New Zealanders would want such a decision to be back by the United Nations.

Bill English was the Leader in 2003 when Labour decided not to go into the Iraq war.  At that time he said he wanted openness and honesty about policy. That’s what we are asking for.

No one wants to see the spread of war, not least the people living in daily danger or their families here in New Zealand.

As Mahatma Gandhi said “An eye for an eye makes the world blind”.