Public Safety Conservation Act 1932
In April 1932, following rioting in Auckland linked to unemployment, the Public Safety Conservation Act was passed, allowing the government to assume unrestricted powers in a declared state of emergency. The act was first invoked by the Labour government at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. It was also used by the National government during the waterfront dispute of 1951. The act was repealed in 1987, immediately before the introduction of the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act.
The attack on the Rainbow Warrior
In July 1985 the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland Harbour by a bomb. One of the crew, Fernando Pereira, drowned. The ship had been about to lead a protest fleet against French nuclear testing. The French foreign intelligence service (the DGSE) carried out the bombing. According to many authorities, this was not terrorism as it was an action by government agents officially sanctioned by a sovereign nation. New Zealand’s Chief Justice Ronald Davison disagreed. When delivering the judgement of the High Court on Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, he stated, ‘In my view this activity may well fall within the definition of terrorist activity.’1
International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act 1987
The New Zealand government regarded the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by French agents in 1985 as an act of international terrorism. In response to the bombing, the government introduced the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act 1987. If an international terrorist emergency develops in New Zealand, the 1987 act allows the prime minister to call a meeting of at least three ministers of the Crown to declare a state of emergency. Emergency powers, including some powers of censorship, then apply. After seven days emergency powers cease to operate unless extended by Parliament or, if Parliament is not sitting, by the governor-general. An international terrorist incident must involve actions, or threats of actions, to kill or injure people or to seriously damage property. The actions must also be aimed to coerce or intimidate a government or person.
There was some controversy over this act. Critics argued that it did not give a clear enough definition of an international terrorist incident. They also charged that the censorship provisions were too draconian. The law remains on the books.
Criticism of anti-terrorism laws
Green Party MPs were alone in voting against the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, which was passed by 106 votes to 9. They were also the main parliamentary opponents of various aspects of the Counter-Terrorism Bill. The Greens, along with civil liberties activists, have continued to be critical of the anti-terrorism laws. Objections to the laws have mainly been on the grounds that they allow too broad a definition of terrorism and give too much power to the police and intelligence agencies.
Terrorism Suppression Act 2002
Following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the US, New Zealand’s Parliament passed the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. The act increased the powers available to the government to combat terrorism. It also enabled New Zealand to meet its obligations under United Nations anti-terrorist conventions and resolutions. The act made it illegal to participate in or recruit for terrorist groups. It outlawed financial assistance to terrorists and allowed the forfeiture of property or the freezing of assets of terrorist groups or their assistants. It gave the prime minister the power to designate groups as ‘terrorist’ on the grounds that they have participated in terrorist acts.
Groups designated as terrorist under the act have included those listed by the United Nations as connected with Al Qaeda, a militant Islamist organisation responsible for the 2001 attacks on the US. Also included were the Real IRA (Irish Republican Army), the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), the PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan or Kurdish Workers’ Party), the Colombian FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the New People’s Army of the Philippines.
Counter-Terrorism Bill 2003
The Counter-Terrorism Bill aimed to widen both the investigative powers and the criminal penalties that could be applied against terrorism. The bill was subsequently divided into six amendment bills, which inserted the desired legislation into six pre-existing acts.
The amendments added as offences the improper use of nuclear material or unmarked plastic explosives, the causing of sickness or disease in animals, and the contamination of food crops. It also became an offence to harbour or conceal terrorists. Terrorism was declared an aggravating factor in sentencing for other offences. The amendments also increased police ability to use tracking devices, to access computers and to obtain interception warrants. All the amendments were passed into law in 2003.