The perils of a New Zealand Border Force

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New Zealand it was the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, an agency that many in Canterbury were pleased to see the back of.

So, why am I opposed to a New Zealand Border agency being created? There are several reasons, which I then explore in greater depth:

  • The existing agencies charged with our border protection are perfectly capable of doing the job if we just resource, staff and train them appropriately
  • A New Zealand Border agency would probably be modelled on the Australian Border Force, which has courted controversy with many of its actions
  • These types of agencies – if we use the Australian Border Force or the American Immigration Customs Enforcement Force as examples tend to be used to conduct raids on minorities, be used as instruments of fear to give effect to institutionalized xenophobia
  • If we have a N.Z.B. agency then detention facilities like those on Manus and Nauru Islands in Australia are likely to be the next step – who would we put in them?

The New Zealand Customs Service is entrusted with the protection of our borders. Whilst I certainly agree that it is not sufficiently funded or resourced, we are a small country that has somewhat limited resources compared to Australia or the United States. I also note that they are also geographically much larger countries with correspondingly larger populations and more diverse resources to protect. I would argue that maintaining a single well resourced and funded agency is preferable to several that duplicate responsibilities.

The Australian Border Force was created by Minister of Homeland Security Peter Dutton in July 2015. The A.B.F. has run the controversial Operation Sovereign Borders, which involves the detention of people who arrived without a visa from foreign countries. Whilst noting the right of Australia to protect its border, politicians from the Liberal Party and One Nation have frequently used border security as an excuse to carry out activities that breach Australia’s international human rights obligations.

In a New Zealand context a border agency would need an independent watch dog that can monitor its activity and report to Parliament on a regular basis with regards to the Border Force’s actions. It also needs to be able to issue guidance that has legal weighting, whereas the A.B.F has a Minister who will surely deny that the A.B.F. has committed any serious wrongs.

National and New Zealand First both seem to like the idea of a New Zealand border agency. The National Party version seems to be focussed on addressing COVID19 returnees. It would not allow anyone in who has not been tested and wants countries of origin to be responsible for the testing. Aside from there being no legal way to enforce this Trumpian idea in a foreign jurisdiction, the National proposal goes one step further in that it seeks to block New Zealanders in countries that might not have the means or know how to carry out such testing. This potentially breaches the Human Rights Act 1986 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

And the N.Z. border agency may be more than just a pandemic control agency. Instead of being limited to stopping people at the border who might have COVID19, it would if we took the Australian model, also become an agency that expresses the worst of institutionalized fear mongering by targetting minority groups based on ethnicity, religious background and so forth.

In both the United States and Australia agencies of this nature have been linked to the eventual establishment of detention centre systems that are often run by private firms such as Serco, or Wilsons. For these private operations are purely profit driven and to contract out government responsibilities around the lives and safety of detainees, has led in the Australian case to shocking stories of abject squalor, suicides, children self harming, guards mistreating detainees. And when the media try to hold them to account, they become targets of government anger.

We do not need any of this in New Zealand. It is for these reasons I refuse to support the creation of New Zealand border agency.

New Zealand ignoring other security threats

There was once a time when navigating national security was a straight forward issue for New Zealand and indeed much of the world. The threats were distant and being monitored by our allies. But slowly but surely what started out as a nice back yard in which New Zealanders thought they could have a beer, has turned into a crocodile pit. Last year one of the inhabitants of the crocodile pit had a go at New Zealand. We hastily removed it, checked the foliage around the edge and then went back to our seat.

For the last several months, for obvious reasons New Zealand as a nation has been fighting COVID19. It caused us to shut down for a month and then spend another 3 weeks on Level 3. We did it and with the exception of the last month, where a bit of a COVID surge has occurred, completely stopped it. But in that time have we been paying enough attention to other national security threats?

We were right to be more concerned about our internal well being. No one really understood COVID19 when it first became a problem and its ability to spread around the world caught many nations dozing at the wheel. The global pandemic has infected 15 million around the world, of which nearly 4 million are in the United States. Of the 3.97 million Americans who have or have had COVID19, nearly 145,000 have died, which is more than all Americans killed in World War 1 or getting close to the size of Hamilton.

With our borders shut, some might argue that other security threats were no longer a problem since no one could get in or get out. Planning a terrorist attack unless the attackers had all of their resources ready to go, was out of the question and any suspect transport activity would have been much more easily spotted by the Police, and other than a supermarket, what would they attack anyway?

Daesh was really a consequence of failed western geopolitics. New Zealand for the most part rightfully stayed out of that conflict, which had nothing to do with us and would only expose New Zealanders to unnecessary danger from one of the most backward entities in the world. New Zealanders understood this.

Then we had 15 March 2019. An Australian-borne New Zealander shot up two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people during afternoon prayers. New Zealanders were revolted. The Prime Minister acted decisively, introducing legislation within ten days to restrict the potential for firearms similar to the one used to indiscriminately murder New Zealanders in the future. But against this backdrop of a rapid Government response, toxic right wing conspiracy nuts tried to derail the legislation. Mixed among them were activists who believed that the gun man was doing New Zealand a favour by killing so many Muslims.

He was not. He was trying to incite violence and division.

Not surprisingly the Police response to the attack was massive, and received widespread international applause. Armed Police stood guard at the mosques and at places such as Christchurch’s justice precinct for weeks following the attacks to reassure New Zealanders. This is not to say we should put armed Police back on the streets again just to reassure the public that New Zealand is safe. Considering the recent revelations that Maori and Pacific Island communities feel unsafe when armed Police are around, perhaps the most immediate thing we can do is take steps to disarm that fear and thus disarm the distrust that fear can stoke.

New Zealand Police really need to invite the leaders of all of our ethnic minorities to a hui. At that hui they need to go through all of the individual minorities one on one and then as a group to find out their specific concerns. They need to identify common themes coming out, such as among the Maori and Pacific Island communities, the fear of armed Police; among Islamic and other religious communities the fear that 15 March 2019 might not be the last. These people are as much New Zealanders as you and I. Let us make them feel valued and welcomed and not feel like social pariahs.

Internationally we need to look at how much we want to do with a United States Government that openly demonizes Muslims and other religious communities. We need to look at whether our Defence Force should be deployed in war zones that started because of some foreign power or another having a geopolitical agenda. New Zealand needs to also have a critical look at whether we make a big enough effort to help our small Pasifika neighbours, some of whom have barely functional governments.

COVID19 might have been the dominating thing on our domestic radar, and in many respects still is, but that should not we stop paying attention to potential threats overseas or domestically. They are still there lurking like ambush predators, awaiting a suitable moment, and we need to be ready.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 25

Yesterday was DAY 25 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

I monitor a range of media, political, economic, environmental and social commentators on Twitter. They include columnists such as conservative columnist Matthew Hooton and socialist commentator Chris Trotter, China specialist Anne-Marie Brady and a host of others.

Over the last 3 1/2 weeks, it has been really interesting watching the commentary flow about how New Zealand is doing, how we compare to other nations. But one thing that everyone seemed to have overlooked was how are our little Pasifika neighbours going.

It turns out, very well.

Last night Professor Brady, who works at University of Canterbury, had an idea on Twitter that I quite like about how New Zealand’s border might initially reopen. Professor Brady noted that the vast majority of small Pacific Island nations are clear of COVID19. In this she is thinking of – but not limited to:

  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Vanuatu
  • Solomon Islands

Her vision is of a small islands super bubble. Other commentators on the thread thought that if we do that, New Zealand’s role would be to ensure that the bubble is not breached by anyone with the virus, which would be done by requiring them to quarantine at N.Z. facilities before they travelled to anywhere else in the bubble.

Due to the heavy reliance of many of these places on tourism, but also recognizing that outsiders carrying COVID19 could potentially completely destroy the smallest of these states, this would be the most fool proof way. The United States is too risky by simple virtue of their lack of organization in defeating COVID19 and Autstralia, whilst having a falling rate of cases, has in effect detuned from its South Pacific responsibilities.

Even if this idea does not fly, this is a great opportunity for New Zealand to steal a lead in the South Pacific by offering to help them build up their health sectors. An investment in that could be looked as both an investment in their well being, but also an investment in New Zealand’s national security, by helping to ensure that these nations are not crippled in the future.


Mosque attack anniversary commemorations should be a once only

Following suggestions that it is not appropriate to have commemorations this weekend for the Christchurch mosque attacks, I have been giving this some thought. I have reservations about getting too heavily into the act of commemorating the Al Noor and Linwood mosque attacks.

The reason is simple:

In the Islamic faith it is considered that once a person is deceased, they have gone to another life. Whilst Islam does not forbid people from mourning it emphasizes the need for a positive legacy from the loss of the deceased.

It is an idea that I quite like. Which is why I believe that these commemorations planned for this weekend should be a once off, and that thereafter in accordance with the Islamic faith, which lost so many of its followers, we should focus on assisting the Muslim community with turning the darkness of 15 March 2019 into something positive that will be beneficial for all.

Just as the Muslim community will want to move forwards, so should the rest of New Zealand. We should not ever forget what happened, but large public gatherings to acknowledge the attacks year after year would not be helpful for anyone in Christchurch.

Following recent arrests of people publishing inflammatory material, including a 19 year old man who made a threat to Al Noor Mosque, it was discovered they belonged to Action Zealandia. We should focus on making sure that militant groups like Action Zealandia are not able to establish a foothold. Despite Action Zealandia denying the group supported the attacks, a document was “leaked” to Stuff which mentioned the code of conduct for the group, including refusing to talk to anyone conducting an interrogation. And an expert with experience of researching the far right in New Zealand said it was possible that the document was deliberately planted to ensure that it appeared that the group is peaceful.

In a few months time the trial of the person accused will start. Just as New Zealand media have agreed not to publish the persons name or other identifying details, nor will this blog. The person is accused of murdering 51 people and faces a further 40 charges of attempted. If convicted, the person has no prospect of ever being released in New Zealand. The attacker, who drew inspiration from the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik and other inflammatory sources, was from Australia.


New Zealand Defence Force might return to Iraq

I have heard a suggestion that the New Zealand Defence Force might have to return to Iraq.

If the New Zealand Defence Force does return to Iraq, what are we going to do? Are we going to continue training Iraqi soldiers who might then go shoot dead civilians in the street as they have been doing these last few weeks? Are we going to be there in a monitoring capacity? Are we going to be peace-keepers/makers?

Historically New Zealand was involved in the crude British operation in 1916 that lead to the formation of Iraq as a Western geopolitical construct with no regard for ethno-geographies. One might argue on that basis that therefore we should be involved in Iraq because we helped to make the mess that led to Iraq’s formation, we should be a part of the solution to its re-establishment as a nation state.

But I am not honestly sure Iraq is destined to survive as a nation state. When it was founded, the borders cut straight through ethnic groups. Thus some found themselves in Persia (which became Iran). Some found themselves in what would become Turkey after World War 1 ended and others wound up in the French construct that ultimately became Syria. The treaties that were brokered following World War 1 did initially for example acknowledge the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and Syria as well as Turkey and accepted that an independent Kurdish state might be necessary.

Unfortunately all of that unravelled, which is a shame because in the post-Saddam Hussein mess that Iraq has descended into, a Kurdish state in the north of the country would help bring some stability to the Turkish and Syrian border regions. As the Kurds are one of the more progressive ethnicities in the Middle East, the relatively advanced social status of their women would go some way towards being a guiding beacon that Middle East women can understand.

But back to the New Zealand Defence Force. I personally would be reluctant to send them back – I had doubts about their original mission in light of the apparently aimless U.S. mission which went from Operation Iraqi Freedom to general war for the sake of war.

Could/should the New Zealand Defence Force risk getting its hands soiled by trying to keep the peace between Shia, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, whose rivalry goes back hundreds of years? The rules of such conflicts are generally messy, and New Zealand is constrained by the Geneva Conventions in terms of what we can and cannot do. Were we to find ourselves in breach of these, it would be hugely damaging for our reputation as a country that prefers peaceful outcomes, but which will fight a hard clean fight if we have to.

And what would Iraq say to the idea of a Kurdish state covering much of the traditional lands of the Kurds? As with Iraq’s neighbours Syria and Turkey who both have significant Kurdish populations, I doubt their response to such an idea would be at all warm. Turkey views the Kurdish Workers Party (P.K.K.)as a terrorist entity and it is blacklisted by the United Nations as such, which would mean New Zealand could not recognize it. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan very much wants to neutralise the Kurd’s as a political force, and sees Turkey’s future in reviving the Ottoman Empire.

If we really must go back we should be putting as much effort as possible into removing unexploded ordnance, helping rebuild infrastructure and showing Iraqi’s how to maintain it. Last time this was a successful initiative as it showed the Iraqi civil population that not all of the western countries were there for the fighting and that there were people who cared about them. It would also help acknowledge our historic links to the geopolitical designs of Britain in the 1910’s.