Thursday, 15 Nov 2007

Terrorism law change boosts PM's powers

MARTIN KAY - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 14 November 2007
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Prime Minister Helen Clark has been given greater powers to list Kiwi individuals and groups as terrorists, in a law change that opponents say could be used to crush legitimate political protest.
View video: Terror laws strengthened

Miss Clark has defended the decision to push through the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill – despite admitting that the original law's domestic provisions are badly flawed – on the grounds that most of the changes relate to international obligations.

These include the requirement to list al Qaeda and Taleban groups identified by the United Nations as terrorist groups.

But the law also includes several domestic provisions, including the creation of a new offence of committing a terrorist act, and the removal of the need for the High Court to review non-UN designations.

That review power is handed to the prime minister, who makes the designations in the first place. Though no such designations have been made, ACT leader Rodney Hide said removing High Court oversight could be used to clamp down on legitimate political protest, such as those during the 1981 Springbok tour.

Green MP Keith Locke said there were also concerns about the new offence of committing a terrorist act.

"Participating in a terrorist act is actually an easy offence to convict an ordinary New Zealander of, particularly one engaged in some form of political protest that goes . . . to some sort of civil disobedience."

He said the threshold would be much lower than for participating in a terrorist group.

The Government has accepted the criticisms and asked the Law Commission to review the law. Options include extra scope for police to bug phones and intercept text messages.

The review was recommended by Solicitor-General David Collins, QC, after he refused a police request to lay terrorism charges against 12 people caught in swoops on guerilla-style training camps last month, despite evidence of "very disturbing activities". The 12 face Arms Act charges, along with four others.

Yesterday's amendments passed by 108 votes to 13, with only the Greens, the Maori Party, ACT and independent MP Taito Phillip Field voting against.

The bill passed as 150 people converged on Palmerston North. The Tuhoe-led group is expected at Parliament today.

Tuhoe spokesman Taiarahia Black, a professor of Maori Studies at Massey University, said he wanted Police Commissioner Howard Broad – who has admitted police need to mend bridges with Tuhoe – to meet the iwi and admit he got it wrong.

- with NZPA

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