The number of New Zealanders planning to serve as foreign fighters in countries like Syria is "far more" than one or two, Prime Minister John Key says.
He has signalled a shake-up of Security Intelligence Service laws after announcing a big break with tradition by relinquishing day-to-day oversight of the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau.
He is also planning a major speech once Parliament resumes that looks set to challenge Kiwi perceptions that New Zealand is far removed from terrorist threats.
The speech signals Key's intention to front-foot security and intelligence issues more aggressively after much of National's second term was beset by controversy surrounding the GCSB.
Key warned that New Zealand was in a far from benign environment, using the rise of Kiwis seeking to join groups like the Islamic State (Isis) as an example.
"I hope to be able to spell out the risks around foreign fighters. There is no question the Security Intelligence legislation needs reforming.
"If I was to spell out to New Zealanders the exact number of people looking to leave and be foreign fighters, it would be larger than I think New Zealanders would expect that number to be.
"The number currently fighting overseas . . . is relatively small but it's certainly far more than one or two."
Attorney-General Chris Finlayson will take over responsibility for the GCSB and SIS but Key retains an over-arching role as Minister for National Security and Intelligence - a new portfolio.
Opposition parties slated the move as the prime minister abdicating responsibility for national security.
But Key said it was in line with international trends and did not mean he would spend less time on security and intelligence issues.
"It's really to recognise that national security and intelligence is growing in significance and importance . . . the world has become a more uncertain place."
He singled out the rise of foreign fighters as a particular issue for the Government to deal with, likely through legislative change. He would seek cross-party support. "If we cancel a passport for someone who is looking to go overseas as a foreign fighter . . . in other jurisdictions they [are cancelled] for a much longer period of time . . . we think there are some glaring deficiencies there."
It was also not clear that foreign fighters were guilty of any crime once they returned to New Zealand.
Key confirmed, meanwhile, that New Zealand was expecting a request to join the international effort against Isis.
Deploying the Special Air Service was likely to be among the options considered by New Zealand "but we'll just need to assess that".
- The Dominion Post
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