Labour backs anti-terror laws, despite attacking it

ANDREW LITTLE: Labour agreed there was a security risk that had to be dealt with.
Kevin Stent

ANDREW LITTLE: Labour agreed there was a security risk that had to be dealt with.

The Labour party launched a series of attacks on new anti-terror laws last night -  but its MPs still voted for them.

National's "foreign fighters" bill passed into law, 94 votes to 27, with Parliament debating final stages late into the night.

The Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill aims to tackle home-grown terrorism, with the Government arguing the rise of the Islamic State terror group in the Middle East increased the risk of an attack here.

It allows warrantless surveillance for 24 hours, and includes powers to cancel passports for up to three years, when authorities suspect terrorist activities.

Labour leader Andrew Little today said the party agreed there was a security risk that had to be dealt with. 

"When it comes down to issues of safety and security, which is what this bill is dealing with, and a particular security risk involving extremists and fanatics, we've accepted that there is a risk but it's not easy to cover it off by the law as it [was]," he said on Firstline. 

But a law that called for an "intrusion on people's freedoms" needed to be held up to greater scrutiny. 

"In the two days that people had available to make submissions, there were 600 submissions," Little said.

"A lot of people put in a reasonably good effort, but a lot of them obviously were very brief.

"We've said to the Government we don't ever want to be put in this position again."

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Prime Minister John Key, who built the case for the legislation, this morning welcomed the result.

"The threats faced by New Zealand have grown and it is important that we have the ability to respond to that," he said.

"The Government has a responsibility to protect New Zealanders at home and abroad and this legislation, passed with the support of a range of political parties, will better enable us to do that." 

The Greens, NZ First and the Maori Party opposed the bill.

During the debate last night, Security Intelligence Service (SIS) minister Chris Finlayson moved to clarify the definition of foreign fighter after concerns were raised by Labour and the Greens.

There were fears the law could target environmental activists or, for example, New Zealanders who wanted to fight alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State.

Finlayson said tighter terminology was not necessary, as it was already outlined in existing terrorism suppression laws.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said he wanted to make a distinction between a foreign fighter and freedom fighter.

"This was something that we wanted to ensure that if you wanted to go off and fight in the Spanish Civil War you are still entitled to that," he said.

In the end, he was satisfied it applied only to those who intended to commit terrorist acts.

Shearer also attacked the Government for a lack of consultation with the country's 46,000 Muslims, who were "the people on the front line".

Labour were critical of the Government for forcing the law through under urgency. Little called the process "shoddy" and "appalling" and said the rushed nature had denied many their right to have a say.

Green party MP Kennedy Graham said the select committee heard from just over 60 submitters and the democratic process was "perversely truncated".

The remaining views were "essentially unread."

His party was twice briefed by the SIS on the need for the reforms, he argued.

"Nothing we heard persuaded us that our initial underlying concern with the bill was misplaced," Graham said.

"We do not deny that the world is a dangerous place. We are not oblivious to the rise of ISIL (Islamic State) . . . but the primary case for the legislation, according unprecedented state powers . . . has not been made." 

NZ First decided at the last moment not to support the bill, with leader Winston Peters proposing an amendment that would re-enact sedition laws repealed seven years ago. That was defeated.

Peters said: "We are being asked to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of Nazism."

The legislation is only on the books until 2017 pending a review of the security services that begins next year.

Key has signalled this would lead to broader surveillance measures.

 - Stuff

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