The war against terrorism is a no win situation for Prime Minister John Key; he’s damned if he doesn’t do enough and damned if he does too much and goes over the top.
After New Zealand won a seat on the Security Council – a major coup for small nations like us - it’s probably right that the Government takes a responsible approach to potential threats. Key said there was around 40 people on a ‘watch list’ and another 40 residents required ‘further investigation.’ Since the Government passed a law allowing the cancellation of passports in 2005, nine have been cancelled.
Key also announced our spooks in the Security Intelligence Service will have enhanced powers, allowing agents to respond more rapidly to potential threats by New Zealand-based supporters of the so-called jihadist terrorist group Isis (Islamic State). Anyone who thinks those threats are not real needs to think again. Many of us have lived believing that because we are so far away from major conflict, no one would want to target little old New Zealand, that might be wishful thinking. However, because of our alliances with the US, Australia and the UK, we are in the firing line.
The law changes will allow the SIS to run video surveillance on private property with a warrant. That authorisation must come from SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge and can only last up to 48 hours without a warrant. Kitteridge will have to declare to the Intelligence Committee – a high-level group that includes Government and opposition party leaders - how many times that discretion and power is used.
There’s also more cash, a $7 million boost that will see 250 fully-fledged spies by this time next year. Key also expressed his desire for New Zealand to look for diplomatic, rather than armed intervention in conflicts which is admirable, but critics would argue not realistic.
So, while increased powers to the SIS were expected, I’m very mindful that the last time the spying agencies went on a fishing expedition, it blew up in their faces and had the potential to set back race relations back by a century. I’m talking about those disgraceful raids mainly on Maori in 2007.
Police intelligence, the SIS and others believed a rag-tag bunch of Maori were behind an elaborate plot to overthrow the establishment. According to intelligence, they had been running covert training programmes in the Ureweras where they had assembled a group of like-minded sympathisers. As we now know, this was not the case and even today, there are many who will never forget those experiences, nor should they.
So while we must be vigilant against real threats of terrorism, I’m hoping that the new powers will not be turned inwardly, or on Maori who might not agree with the current regime.
Willie Jackson and Alison Mau - weekdays from 12pm on RadioLIVE