Brownlee defends speed of changes

The Government is defending its decision to rush through sweeping security laws in just two weeks, insisting the changes must be in place before politicians head off on a two-month break.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said the terror risk in New Zealand had increased since the beginning of the year and it was "totally necessary" to pass the legislation before Parliament wrapped up for summer.

Labour defence spokesman Phil Goff has questioned the Government's haste, saying similar legislation in Australia and elsewhere had been passed months ago.

"The Government was talking about foreign fighters right at the beginning of the year," Goff told TV3's The Nation.

"Why has it been left to this point to take action so that we only have two weeks and a very truncated select committee process? Select committees are the heart of our democratic system. [Giving] the public their say, giving the experts the chance to give evidence, that really does improve the quality of the legislation and we've cut that down to the bare minimum."

Prime Minister John Key announced last week the Government would pass legislation clamping down on Kiwis who want to take up arms in Syria alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis). The group has left a bloody trail in Iraq and Syria and sparked condemnation after posting chilling videos of hostages being beheaded.

Among the measures outlined by Key are the power to cancel passports for up to three years, the ability to urgently suspend travel documents and sweeping new surveillance powers for the Security Intelligence Service. Those new powers include the ability to conduct video surveillance, and urgent surveillance without a warrant for up to 48 hours.

Goff said some of the new powers did not concern him, such as video surveillance, which was not allowed under the current law simply because it was drafted in 1969, when such technology was not available.

"I am worried about the 48 hours [provision], where you can have surveillance without a warrant. It seems to me that only in extraordinary circumstances would you want to give powers to the SIS to put out surveillance techniques without having a warrant."

But Goff stopped short of saying Labour would not support that provision, saying only that Labour would look closely at it during the select committee process.

Brownlee said the threat level in New Zealand had changed constantly throughout the year, before being raised last month from very low to low, which means a terrorist act is possible but not expected.

That justified the sense of urgency.

September's terror raids in Sydney, sparked by an alleged plot to behead an innocent bystander, also had a bearing, Brownlee said.

The Dominion Post