The Government is pledging law changes in the aftermath of the March 15 Christchurch terrorist attack inquiry – with promises of changes to anti-terrorism laws, new legislation to criminalise planning or preparing a terrorist attack, and the strengthening of laws around hate speech and hate crime.
Jacinda Ardern has also pledged to go the head of YouTube over the terrorist’s use of the platform.
There will also be the implementation of better recording of hate crime, changes to the Human Rights Act, early intervention programmes for people showing signs of radicalisation and a mandatory reporting of firearm injuries by health professionals.
The report stated the terrorist had a firearms injury in 2018 to his eye and thigh – the accident was not reported to police and he was discharged from hospital five-and-a-half hours later.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 attack that left 51 people dead found failings with New Zealand’s firearm licensing regime and the focus of security and intelligence agencies.
The outcome has seen the Prime Minister, the Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and the Director-General of the NZSIS Rebecca Kitteridge apologise for the failings.
“Today, we have answers,” Jacinda Ardern said, describing the 800-page report as a difficult read.
Ardern’s message to the survivors and family of those killed at Al Noor and Linwood Mosques was that implementing the recommendations of the report was the “least we owe them”.
PROMISE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
“I pledged to the community there would be accountability and I hope they see that today.
“You, and others, have made New Zealand your home,” Ardern said. “You, and every New Zealander, deserve a system that does its best to keep you safe."
The report listed the names and acknowledged those who died in the terrorist attack, and spoke of the lifelong impacts for family, friends and survivors of the attack.
It wrote of those who may never regain the use of limbs, those living in ongoing pain, those who require ongoing care, the loss of businesses or never being able to return to work, children who were never the same after the attack and family members who had to watch the livestream of the attack to determine whether their loved one survived.
“Terrorism aims to shake our beliefs and divide us.”
Instead, New Zealand responded to the terrorism attack with “compassion, empathy and solidarity,” Ardern said.
She read a line from the report about terrorist Brenton Tarrant, stating he was not a frequent commentator on far-right online message boards.
Instead, YouTube was a more significant source of information and inspiration.
Ardern said she intends to make that point directly to YouTube's leadership.
“Muslim New Zealanders should be safe,” she said, adding that an apology would be hollow without action.
The Government received the report 10 days ago, and today promised to work on the 44 recommendations and outlining immediate pledges on a number.
Among the changes:
- Andrew Little is to be put in charge of implementing the recommendations.
- A new national intelligence and security agency is to be established.
- A programme to help frontline police identify, record and manage hate crime will be launched.
- Police will also lead an early intervention programme for people showing early signs of radicalisation.
- Funding for communities at risk of hate crime and terrorism will be created to help upgrade security.
- Changes to terrorism laws to strengthen counter-terrorism legislation will be made.
The Prime Minister apologised for failings found by the Royal Commission of Inquiry – confirming there had been an inappropriate concentration of resources poured into the threat of Islamic extremism and for failings within the firearms licensing system.
“For many years, the Muslim community has raised concerns over issues like the disproportionate scrutiny by security and intelligence agencies.
“The Commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack, but these were both failings nonetheless and for that I apologise,” Ardern said.
The report also pointed out the “permissive firearm regime that persisted for decades for which we must also take responsibility and which we have now changed”.
She promised to enhance New Zealand’s security and intelligence so there was an adequate focus on the range of threats faced.
The Commission interviewed the terrorist, but said it had "distinct reservations" in believing what he told them. However, “generally it provided insights into his activities and thinking, sometimes in ways he did not intend”.
“The individual expressed racist ideas from an early age. He was also an avid internet user and online gamer. He had few childhood friends,” the report stated.
The Commission inquiry said that by January 2017, he had a terrorist attack in mind.
“We are satisfied that by the time the individual arrived in New Zealand in August 2017 he intended to commit a terrorist attack. This was the primary focus of his life in New Zealand.
The report, authored by Sir William Young and Jacqui Caine, also said Tarrant's “dwindling financial reserves influenced the timing of his terrorist attack”.
His mother visited New Zealand in late 2018-early 2019. She left “petrified” of his increasingly racist views and his mental health.
“She felt he had no friends and had isolated himself in a small, empty flat,” the report stated.
SUMMARY OF CHANGES
There will be a new offence to criminalise planning or preparation for a terrorist act, to more clearly criminalise terrorist weapons and combat training and to expand the eligibility for control orders of people presenting a risk of terrorism related activities.
Strengthening hate laws
The Government is intending to strengthen laws around hate-motivated activity and inciting hatred against an individual or group.
“Speech which is abusive or threatening and incites hostility towards a group or person can cause significant harm,” Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said.
There will also be changes to the Human Rights Act, which will also see protections for trans, gender diverse and intersex people.
Police and gun licences
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster apologised for the administration of the Arms Act, saying work was underway to address the issues.
He accepted the findings that there was a lack of coherent and complete guidance for referees and the training and review processes were not adequate.
NZ police's administration of the firearms licensing system did not meet required standards and regulation of semi-automatic firearms - “it was lax, open to easy exploitation and was gamed by the individual”.
During the firearms licence application process, insufficient attention was given to whether the terrorist’s referee, referred to in the report as his ‘gaming friend’, and their parent knew him well enough to be appropriate referees.
Racism in New Zealand
Most impacted family, survivors and witnesses told the Commission that their experiences before the attack were generally positive, they felt New Zealand was peaceful and safe and that they never thought a terrorist attack could happen here.
Despite this, almost every person the Commission spoke to had personally suffered racist incidents or discrimination or had known of family and friends who had.
Many women who wore the hijab experienced harassment much more than men, with some scared to go out on their own because of this or changing their daily routines such as walking their children to school after the attack.
Before the attack, children had been subjected to bullying at school or out in neighbourhoods and many people had been the target of racist comments yelled at them from cars.
Many found it hard finding jobs, despite being highly qualified.
“We heard from one woman who began to receive interview requests only after changing her name for job application purposes to a traditional English name.”
Recommendations for government include
- Require public sector agencies to prioritise the collection of data on ethnic religious demographics
- Amend legislation to create hate-motivated offences
- Put a provision in the Human Rights Act for an offence of inciting racial or religious disharmony
- Amend the definition of "objectionable" in the Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act to include racial superiority, racial hatred and racial discrimination
- Make police record complaints to capture hate motivations for offending and train frontline staff to identify bias indicators
- Establish a ministerial position to lead counter-terrorism effort
- Create a new national intelligence and security agency, with a chief executive to be the intelligence and security adviser to the Prime Minister and Cabinet – with accountability to the Minister
- Create an interdepartmental executive board (as an alternative mechanism to the voluntary nature of the Security and Intelligence Board)
- Develop a public strategy to address extremism
- Make the new national intelligence and security agency to improve intelligence and security sharing practices
- ‘Develop and publish indicators and risk factors that illustrate (for the public) behaviours that may demonstrate a person’s potential for engaging in violent extremism and terrorism’
- Have a programme to fund independent NZ specific research
- Review all laws related to counter-terrorism effort to ensure it is current
- Make firearms licensing system clear and consistent
- Introduce an electronic system for processing firearms licence applications
- Two new hoops for people who have lived outside NZ for a long period of time
- Produce criminal history check
- Interview family members or close connections in other countries
- Mandatory reporting of firearm injuries to NZ police by health professionals