A proposed new bill aimed at preventing radicalised New Zealanders from returning to the country from overseas will give police special powers to put forward evidence to the High Court to constrain potential terrorists for two years, Justice Minister Andrew Little says.
Mr Little yesterday introduced a new bill aimed at preventing terrorism and controlling those involved in or connected to it, as well as supporting the deradicalisation of New Zealanders returning from overseas.
The Terrorism Suppression Bill - a response to the potential return of Hamilton's "bumbling jihadi" Mark Taylor from Syria - would give the police the powers to apply to the High Court to impose control over New Zealanders involved in terrorism-related activities abroad.
Mr Little said the Government began a review into the Terrorism Suppression Act last year, but ISIS' collapse earlier this year led to considerations over the risk of New Zealanders returning to the country after going over to Syria to fight.
"The risk of them returning was rising, so we had to have a response to that," Mr Little told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.
The Terrorism Suppression Bill, if it goes through Parliament, would allow police to go before the High Court to put forward evidence to be considered by a High Court judge.
Using the example of Mark Taylor, Mr Little said, "So when it becomes apparent that he is on his way back to New Zealand, the police would go to the High Court and say, 'Here's the evidence that we've got of his involvement in activities in Syria, he's gone there to be part of the jihad, and to engage in combat. We consider he poses a risk to New Zealand on his return, and we would like these elements of control or constraint put on him.’
"It's up to a High Court judge, then, to decide what is appropriate. In the circumstances Mr Taylor comes back, he'd be advised of the orders. He's advised, also, of his right to seek an immediate review of those orders, and advised he's entitled to legal aid to do so, and then he can then apply for a review. Otherwise, the orders would be placed for two years, and eligible for renewal two more times after that."
Mr Little said Taylor could demonstrate he does not pose a risk to New Zealanders through evidence before his return to the country.
"It's not so much that he should prove that on his return, as there is enough evidence before he gets back that it is possible to say, on an objective basis, that he does pose a risk," Mr Little said. "If an order is then issued that puts constraints on him, he then has a period of time to engage with authorities and demonstrate that he is not a risk over a period of time."
Mr Little said critics may argue that the bill could feasibly apply to anyone, there is "a very high threshold to meet" before a person is put under consideration of the Terrorism Suppression Act.
"This is the challenge we have. I think that when you stand back from it, you say, 'Are there people who, because of what they've done – in this case, particularly overseas – that do pose a risk ... that are violent, that are extreme? And we have to have a means for dealing with them, so we end up with legislation like this," he said.
"Now, it's an easy argument to say, 'Oh, that could apply to anybody'. It won’t, because the conditions justifying getting a controlled order and the fact that you have to persuade a High Court judge that there is a level of risk involved that warrants curtailing this person's freedoms to whatever extent.
"That's a very high threshold to meet. This is not for everybody – it's for those under the exceptional circumstances of, for example, those who’ve gone to the Middle East, or for those who engage in extreme right-wing violent activity in other parts of the world, too."
Yesterday, National Party leader Simon Bridges said the party would be willing to work with Mr Little to toughen up the bill, including lowering the age limit to 14.
While Mr Little said he would not consider lowering the age limit and toughening up the bill, he added that National had points worth considering.
"Both National and Labour, whether they've been in government or opposition, have had a good track record on working on issues of national security, working constructively and working together.
"I expect that to continue, but what I don’t want to get into is some sort of minders bidding war about who’s going to be toughest."