Are our terrorism laws still fit for purpose following Christchurch attack?

Following the Christchurch terrorist attack there are growing calls to revisit the terrorism laws in New Zealand and whether or not they are still fit for purpose. The calls come as New Zealand grapples with the question of how does it carry out appropriate surveillance on potentially dangerous individuals, whether the lone wolf type of attack is a form of terrorism not already covered in legislation.

This article examines key parts of the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act, passed as a result of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

S. 3 of the Act provides for a range of existing conventions established to deal with the suppression of terrorism. It also makes provision for enforcing sanctions against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

These might have been relevant in 2002 when al-Qaida and its affiliated groups such as Jemaah Islamiah were active and committing terrorist attacks around the world. They might have been good for dealing with large networks of sleeper cells that become active on their own accord and launch attacks like the Madrid railway bombing in March 2004 and the Bali night club attack in 2002.

However these provisions failed on 15 March 2019. These provision fail to provide for the lone wolf type attack, where a disgruntled or vengeful member of society uses the resources at his/her disposal to carry out an attack that they are likely to have done all of the planning for by themselves. In saying planning I am saying that the lone wolf attacker would have worked out what materials were needed; funded the acquisition of them; determined the what, how, where, when and who of the attack.

Part 2 of the Act needs to be amended to show provision for aforementioned mode of attack. There will need to be a section inserted which deals with associations with militant groups by individuals.

Questions also exist around whether or not right wing hate groups can be considered terrorist groups. This is a grey area of law because if one considers them to be hate groups, does that make militant left leaning groups that are prepared to use violent/destructive methods that could reasonably cause fear, terrorist groups as well? Does, in place of bombs, assassinations and so forth this make the use of intimidation, hate mail and such potential means of giving effect to terrorism against minorities?

I have concerns that people of conservative persuasion might now be subject to unexpected interest from Police because their status might have changed. If they can subject Green Party supporters, civil rights activists and N.G.O.’s to surveillance for, it is not to say that this is impossible. I have no preference – I condemn any Police or other organization with surveying capacity that abuses their authority for such acts, but I wonder whether in the rush to appear proper if the Government has forgotten that there is a need for the watch dogs to be watched themselves.

One section that I would like to see is one that expressly prohibits preferential tendencies towards people or organizations based on Government directives. The idea would be to keep in check the likes of foreign powers, businesses, N.G.O.’s or citizens, whilst enabling authorities to do their job.


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