In a lame explanation for the state’s failure to prevent the stabbings inside Coundown LynnMall on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says the government has acted as quickly as it could to bring in changes to terrorism laws that will cover the planning of a terrorist act.
The Crown tried – and failed – to charge Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen under the Terrorism Suppression Act because planning to commit a terrorist attack is not an offence under current law.
Robertson said legislation to cover planning a terrorist attack, introduced this year, is well progressed and the select committee is close to completing its deliberations.
Slowly but surely – we are told – is the way to do things.
“In these areas it is important to get this right,” he told Morning Report.
“The consequences of getting it wrong are large, and from the government’s perspective we think the policy work has been done, the bill is in and the public have now had their say we now get on with passing that law.”
Oh, and let’s not forget the Immigration Act.
Robertson said work was under way with this legislation, too.
But could he and his government try picking up the pace?
At Point of Order, we say yes, it could – and if it wants to find out how, then a quick phone call to Scott Morrison across the ditch should provide some ideas.
The Aussies have become dab hands at shipping undesirable Kiwis back to this country.
Grant Robertson’s remarks addressed matters mentioned by the PM in recent press releases.
Latest from the Beehive
The lifting of final suppression orders relating to the Auckland terrorist shows Immigration New Zealand had been attempting for years to deport him and also sought to detain him while deportation was considered in order to keep him out of the community.
I want to begin with an update on the status of our victims from yesterday’s attack.
This year’s Tonga Language week is going to be a virtual affair because of the nationwide lockdowns for Covid 19, said the Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio.
In her press statement, which reminds us of her role as Minister in charge of National Security and Intelligence, Jacinda Ardern said the attacker arrived in New Zealand in October 2011. He was 22 years old and travelling on a student visa.
Shortly after arriving he made a claim for refugee status. Immigration New Zealand declined the claim in 2012 but he appealed to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal and was successful.
He was granted refugee status in December 2013.
In 2016 he came to the attention of the police and the NZ Security Intelligence Service and Immigration New Zealand was made aware of information that led them to believe his refugee status was fraudulently obtained.
The process was started to cancel his refugee status and his right to stay in New Zealand.
In February 2019, Immigration New Zealand cancelled his refugee status. He was served with deportation liability notices.
In April, he appealed against his deportation to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal. He was still in prison at this time, and facing criminal charges. For several reasons, the deportation appeal could not proceed until after the conclusion of the criminal trial in May 2021.
State agencies meanwhile were concerned about the risk this person posed to the community. They also knew he may be released from prison, and that his appeal through the Tribunal, which was stopping his deportation, may take some time
Immigration New Zealand explored whether the Immigration Act might allow them to detain the individual while his deportation appeal was heard.
“It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating when legal advice came back to say this wasn’t an option.
“A person can only be detained under the Immigration Act for the purpose of deportation. Immigration New Zealand was required to consider whether deportation was likely to proceed. That meant making an assessment of what the tribunal would likely find. Crown laws advice to immigration New Zealand was that the individual was likely to be considered a “protected person” because of the status of the country from which he had travelled, and likely treatment on return. Protected people cannot be deported from New Zealand. After receiving this advice Immigration New Zealand determined they could not detain the individual while he waited for his appeal.”
Soon after, he was released from prison, and police began their monitoring and surveillance of him
On 26 August, the Immigration and Protection Tribunal hearing was rescheduled. At the time of the terrorist attack, the offenders attempt to overturn the deportation decision was still ongoing.
“This has been a frustrating process.
“Since 2018 Ministers have been seeking advice on our ability to deport this individual.
“In July this year I met with officials in person and expressed my concern that the law could allow someone to remain here who obtained their immigration status fraudulently and posed a threat to our national security. I asked for work to be undertaken to look at whether we should amend our law, in the context of our international obligations.
“Ultimately these timelines show that Immigration New Zealand from the beginning have sought to deport this individual, and were right to do so.” Jacinda Ardern said.
In a report today, Newsroom tells us more about the government’s frustration as it attempts to stiffen our laws:
The picture Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has painted of the man is nothing short of terrifying.
He was considered such a threat that Ardern was personally aware of him and regularly briefed. Police had pushed the Government to expedite counter terrorism laws to try to help deal with the ongoing threat.
Ardern has been clear the Government worked within the laws as they exist to keep the individual out of the community, and were actively working to deport him, if possible.
In May 2017 the man was stopped at Auckland Airport where it was suspected he was boarding a flight to go and join the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria.
Having first arrived in the country in 2011 on a student visa, by 2017 he was a permanent resident after successfully applying for refugee status.
It later transpired he may have done so fraudulently, and in August 2017 Immigration New Zealand began work to revoke it, but because he was in jail for three of the intervening years his immigration status was put on hold, pending the outcome of charges against him.
In this Newsroom article, Robertson bleated about the courts:
On his release in mid-July, the man was subject to a number of supervisions, including making available any electronic devices for checking by a probation officer, when requested.
But on Sunday, Robertson told Newsroom further restrictions on the man were not something the Government had any control over.
“Bear in mind they’re decisions for the court. It was a court order that put him back out into the community,’’ Robertson said.
And (discussing the complications of working through these immigration issues):
“It’s a very litigious area and one where the Government needs to move carefully, because the consequences of getting it wrong are extremely high,” he said, adding: “The Government is not above the law.”
No, it’s not.
But the Government can change the law – particularly when it has a majority of the sort enjoyed by the Ardern government.
Just ask Scott Morrison.
We are reminded that a few months ago Stuff reported more than 300 New Zealanders had been deported from Australia since international borders closed to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Since 2015, the Stuff report noted, 2374 Kiwis had been sent back across the Tasman, with numbers reaching a peak in 2017 at 468 returnees.
This raises an obvious question:
How is it that Australian authorities, under their laws, can so easily deport New Zealanders for crimes much less serious than the stabbings of shoppers in Auckland by someone under surveillance because the authorities knew of the threat he posed to public safety?
There’s no point in Robertson blaming the courts. It’s the judges’ job to interpret the law and the Government’s job to make it.
If Ministers were so concerned over a period of two to three years, there was time to do something about it.
What the Aussies did was not especially complicated: in 2014, they amended their Migration Act to make it easier for non-citizens to be refused a visa or for an existing visa to be cancelled.
Among the changes:
- The grounds on which a person could fail the character test under Section 501 were broadened to allow the minister to require state and territory government agencies to disclose information that may be used to identify non-citizens who are liable for visa cancellation.
- The minister’s powers to cancel visas were broadened, making it easier for visas to be cancelled on character grounds.
- The amendment introduced mandatory cancellation of visas in the situation where the visa holder has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more (or several periods of imprisonment adding up to a total of 12 months or more) or where they have been found guilty of a child sex offence.
The changes were introduced when Scott Morrison was Immigration Minister.
He said at the time the Australian government should cancel the visas of a non-citizen who does not abide by Australian laws or who fails to uphold the standards of behaviour that the Australian community expects.
Oh – and if the Aussie PM isn’t available for advice on getting laws passed in a hurry, Ardern and Robertson should check out the passage of the law that enables councils around the country to create Māori wards unhindered by community veto.
The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act was passed under urgency on February 24.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta had announced the proposed law change just three weeks earlier.