Submission on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill

Posted By TEU on Nov 28, 2014 | 2 comments


Submission of the Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on the “Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill”

Introduction

The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the proposed Bill “Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation”.

The TEU is the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector (in universities, institutes of technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, and REAPs). As an affiliated union of the Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi, we extend our industrial and professional interests into the concerns of the wider union movement, society, the economy and the environment. As such, we have particular concerns with the tenor of this proposed omnibus legislation, both in terms of its possible impacts on human rights and civil liberties of the general population and specifically on our members as staff within tertiary education institutions.

The TEU does not support the proposed Omnibus Bill “Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation”.

 Little evidence for the changes proposed in this Bill

This Omnibus Bill, introduced under Standing Order 263(a), and proposing amendments to the Customs and Excise Act 1996, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969, and the Passports Act 1992 will pass into law with little supporting evidence to substantiate changes that compromise both privacy and civil liberties of New Zealanders.

Introducing this Bill under urgency also prevents proper public consultation ( a one-day consultation period is frankly outrageous), and although the Prime Minister has stated that he has received quality advice and reports supporting the changes the Bill proposes, there is no way for the public to assess this without release of the information.

It is particularly concerning, given the nature of this Bill, that the Government did not reveal any significant details of the proposed legislation until it was leaked. These are not the actions of a transparent and inclusive Government. In our view, the public should know why their privacy may be compromised and have a realistic opportunity to respond to this, before this new legislation is passed.

In a recent TV3 interview by Patrick Gower with the Hon. Chris Finlayson Minister in charge of the SIS[1] the Minister made a number of comments that indicate the new legislation could have far reaching powers:

…if you were tipped off by a human source that someone’s watching an IS video, is that enough to get them on the watch list?

Well, it could be a cause for concern, because some of that stuff is pretty graphic and encourages people to undertake acts of violence. If they can’t be involved in jihad in the Middle East, I think it’s common knowledge – commit jihad at home.[2]

…so the question is, though, you’ve got dozens of people on the watch list who are pretty minor. They may be at least just doing stuff on Facebook, isn’t it?

Well, they may be or they may not be, but we just have to, in accordance with our obligations to our citizens, keep an eye on things.

So what does that mean – they may be or they may not be?

Well, a lot of people may be, for example, nothing more than juvenile fantasists, but there may be others who go beyond that and are an actual threat to society.

And juvenile fantasists are on the watch list?

Well, I’m not saying who is or who is not on the watch list. I’m talking through the kinds of examples, teasing out some of the things that you have been raising with me.[3]

The Minister has also made further disparaging comments about the submission process for the Bill, referring to public input as ‘chit chat’. This kind of attitude to the democratic process and the right of citizens to provide input into the legislative process is concerning to say the least. Rushing this Bill through the legislative process without proper scrutiny will result in poor decision-making that risks seriously compromising the rights of New Zealanders; when this unseemly haste is coupled with a dismissive approach to the public’s role in scrutinising the changes, it raises serious concerns about democracy under this Government.

The Bill creates risks for academics and academic freedom

Academics studying terrorism, or other topics that the SIS considers not to be in the national interest, could be among those who lose civil rights if this Bill becomes law. The Bill gives unwarranted powers to security agencies which could be used to spy on academics working in these or associated fields. The Bill could have a chilling effect not just on some academics’ willingness to speak out publicly, but could also limit the type of research and teaching they are willing to undertake, because of fears of intrusion into their privacy. The powers that will be created by the Bill could also discourage students and young academics from studying political violence or other associated topics.

The Bill also contradicts existing academic research on effective counterterrorism measures, and may impede much-needed research into countering violent extremism. In particular, it may negatively affect Muslim students and staff.

Conclusion

Serious questions remain unanswered about what information about New Zealanders is shared with overseas intelligence agencies. The New Zealand public has a right to expect that its security and intelligence agencies will act within the law and that those in charge of these agencies will exercise proper oversight and not abuse their position. Until there has been a proper opportunity for the public to respond to this Omnibus Bill, there should be no increase in the powers or resources of these agencies.

Print Friendly