www.mccully.co.nz 2 December 2005
A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays
Vigilance Against Terrorism?
More important, the legislation provides important tools for the New Zealand authorities to identify and then manage threats to our security. Because there was some controversy (on human rights grounds) when the legislation was passed, a provision was included requiring a select committee review of key provisions of the Act - a review that had to be reported back to Parliament by 1 December 2005.
Prior to the election, the then Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee conducted hearings on the Act, but no final report was prepared. In order to meet this week's December 1 deadline, the new select committee spent two hours last week being briefed by officials, to finalise a report. The report itself, due to constraints of time, does little more than canvass the issues, and rehearse the officials' advice.
But there is enough in it to ring alarm bells both about the legislation and the way it is being used (or not used) by the New Zealand authorities. And to raise substantial concerns as to whether, as with our defence policy, New Zealand alone is labouring under the misapprehension that we live in Helen Clark's "benign strategic environment".
The gateway to the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 is the process for designating terrorists or terrorist organisations, to which the legislation's measures are to apply. Two routes are available to designation, but in both cases it is the Prime Minister who makes the designation. First, the United Nations Security Council designates terrorists (like Al Qaeda) and all member nations are obliged to formally designate such groups. Second, individual nations should designate terrorist organisations or individuals that pose a threat to their own security or to the security of their neighbours.
Our Benign Strategic Environment
To date, the UN has designated around 450 terrorist organisations or individuals. New Zealand has dutifully designated all of them for the purposes of our legislation. But what about terrorists not on the UN list, but nevertheless deemed by the SIS or the Police to be a threat to our security?
The Select Committee report states that: "The Government has not yet used section 22 to designate any terrorist individual or group that is not included on the UN list." Further : "Officials are finalising and implementing a process for doing so." So how do we stack up against other comparable nations, Australia or Canada, for example? A footnote to the report tells us that: "By comparison, Australia has listed approximately 88 terrorist individuals or groups under UNSCR 1373 in addition to designations made by the UN under UNSCR 1267. Canada has listed approximately 59.
" So, let's get this straight: In addition to processing the terrorist organisations identified by the UN, Australia has separately identified and listed another 88 specifically as a threat to security in their (our) part of the world, and Canada, hardly one of the hawks of the international community, has listed 59. But New Zealand has listed none. Worse, officials are still "finalising and implementing a process for doing so."
The Select Committee Report (and, for those who were there, last week's brief couple of hours in the select committee) provide a rare opportunity to look behind the rhetoric which usually dominates security debates, to scrutinise the actions rather than the words. Which is a rather troubling experience. Because here, again, is clear evidence that we have parted company with the other nations with whom we have normally shared a perspective on security matters. Either our Government really does believe that we live in the Prime Minister's "benign strategic environment" or somebody has seriously dropped the ball.
Lost the Plot?
The newcomer to the detail of defence and security matters could only find the attitude of our Government on the Terrorism legislation deeply disturbing. Their focus is merely upon the theoretical task of bringing our Terrorism Suppression legislation into complete alignment with the United Nations' resolutions and removing any potential for departure (there are a couple of places where there is scope for departure, but it has never happened).
In other words, they are focused on ticking a few UN boxes rather than managing substantive threats to our security. While the UN framework is useful in this area, it would be foolish indeed to see it as exhaustive. Politics still plays a dominant role around the Security Council table. So organisations like Hamas and Hizbollah are not on the UN list of terrorist groups. They are, however, on the Australian and Canadian lists.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is also on the Canadian, but not the UN list. And who knows whether any of them will be on the New Zealand list when we finally get around to having one. There is an uncomfortable feeling that some of the groups identified by our traditional friends as terrorists just may be regarded by key elements in the Sisterhood as freedom fighters.
The timing of the Select Committee report did not provide for the more detailed scrutiny required. But notice has been served that there will be a move for a substantive enquiry into the matter unless we see some action soon. This morning's response from Justice Minister Mark Burton that our current laws "provide a good basis for meeting New Zealand's security arrangements" shows that he just doesn't get the point.
Matters of national security should, where possible, be placed above party politics. And that is the approach that has been taken to date. But the Government has been warned. Let's hope they heed the warning before we all have cause to regret the current inertia.
More Please Explains
The question that Helen Clark just doesn't want to answer was asked of her again this week. A Green MP from Germany, the home of MMP, asked her to explain how someone who had a foreign affairs agenda so different from her own could possibly be New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs - outside the Cabinet and outside the Government, of course. The explanation about our "innovative" approach to MMP may have been satisfying to Clark.
But there is little doubt that the questions will just keep on coming. Not because overseas politicians have nothing better to do than study the vagaries of the New Zealand political system. But because they can't understand our sheer cheek at trying to speak with forked tongue to other nations around the world - running two separate foreign policies in relation to the US, to Australia and to China all in the space of a couple of weeks.
And who knows what Mr Peters had to say to the Ministers he saw in the United Kingdom this week. Having already signalled a readiness to consider increasing our commitment to Afghanistan, just days before the Defence Minister announced that the SAS had actually returned to New Zealand, who knows what excursions Mr Peters has now undertaken. Which is the reason that those awkward questions are going to just keep on coming in.
How Many Teachers?
The worldwide headquarters appreciates the many responses to last week's readers question: How many teachers or lecturers does it take to make a Labour Government? The answer, officially sanctioned by leading government relations firm Saunders Unsworth, publishers of the authoritative, but no doubt outrageously expensive Guide to the 2005 Parliament, is 23.
That would be 23 teachers or lecturers out of a total caucus of 50. As we told you last week, there are 28 former trade unionists in the Labour caucus. So, even allowing for some who qualify for both lists, that's still a fairly telling story about the culture and focus of the current Labour Government.