Government

Returning terrorists law rushed through select committee

Critics say the Government is rushing a new law to handle potential returning terrorists like Mark Taylor, after the public was given just five days to submit on the bill. Marc Daalder reports

The Government's new terrorism suppression legislation was first absorbed by a political firestorm between National, Labour and the Greens when it was announced, and has since then been criticised over human rights concerns.

Now, critics say it's being rushed through Parliament, with the foreign affairs, defence and committee being asked to do six months of work in less than a month.

On Tuesday, the Government passed a motion requiring the select committee to report back on the legislation by December 3, over opposition from National.

Given this, National MP and select committee chair Simon O'Connor said the committee was forced to put a short timeline on submissions, which are due by midnight on Sunday (November 10).

"For us to effectively, as a committee, actually get submissions, work with whatever comes through, take advice, make any necessary changes and draft our report, the only way that we can actually meet the December 3 deadline is a very very short open time for submissions," O'Connor told Newsroom.

Need for deadline unclear

Eddie Clark, a public law lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, said the Government hadn't yet made the case for the short timeline.

"Where we are going to depart from the normal process - which is a few weeks or sometimes months for submissions - there needs to be a good reason to do so," he said.

Clark compared the situation to the case in April, when the timeline for submissions on the first tranche of gun reforms was shortened.

"Arguably, there was [a good reason] in the recent incident where we accelerated gun regulation after the Christchurch terror attack," he said.

"The Government has not offered any information that such circumstances apply here."

"The process is there for a reason. I don't see that the grounds to push it through have been clearly established," said Meg de Ronde, the acting executive director of Amnesty International New Zealand.

"As a practical matter, the only way this makes sense is that they think someone's coming [to New Zealand] on a plane before Parliament comes back after Christmas. They clearly think there's a degree of urgency, but they haven't made that case to the public or to Parliament," Clark said.

"As a practical matter, the only way this makes sense is that they think someone's coming [to New Zealand] on a plane before Parliament comes back after Christmas. They clearly think there's a degree of urgency, but they haven't made that case to the public or to Parliament."

O'Connor agreed, saying that he doesn't think the legislation is needed urgently enough to justify the truncated process.

Speaking as an opposition MP, not as select committee chair, he said: "If that argument holds water, arguably the legislation should be passed today or should have been passed yesterday. If there's an imminent person coming back, then why hasn't this been done much earlier?

"It's probably better to get the legislation right and take the time to get it right than to rush it through."

'Law made in haste is never a good idea'

The rushed process has both O'Connor and Clark worrying that the legislation won't be up to snuff. 

"Even if we put aside any objection in principle to the sort of control orders in this legislation, there are technical problems with the way the bill is drafted and it needs time to be fixed. There are similar problems with the mitigating [amendment] that the Greens got passed," Clark said.

"There are drafting problems that need to be fixed. Rushing the process means that we will have a piece of legislation that can have quite significant effects on civil liberties that has been drafted in a rush and not fixed."

"Law made in haste is never a good idea. The fact that there is four days, basically, for civil society and the public to make submissions is really outrageous," de Ronde said.

"The select committee process is a safeguard. It enables the public to scrutinise what the Government is proposing, especially around terrorism legislation, which seeks to restrict people's liberties," she said.

Clark said that the short deadline would make it difficult for people who want to submit to do so and also weaken the strength of some submissions.

"For a lot of the expert organisations, it really is quite difficult to [draft a comprehensive submission] in that constrained time frame," he said.

"I think the bill has been poorly drafted due to time pressures and it may well be that the submissions are going to be not as well written or considered as they should be because of this time frame."

"There's an enormous amount to be done, which normally we do over six months, which we have to do in two-and-a-half or three weeks."

O'Connor told Newsroom it would be tough for the select committee to do everything it needs to do in the next 27 days. "Not impossible, but it will be very difficult," he said.

"While it's a short period to get the [public] submissions, we then need to spend the next week - potentially two weeks - actually hearing from those who want to be heard. So the committee will be trying to find slots around the working of the House to sit, to hear from people.

"We need to hear from our advisers, particularly the [Ministry of] Justice officials. We then, as a committee, will have to think, 'Are there changes that have to be made?'

"We have to debate and discuss those, integrate those into the proposed legislation, draft up our report to give back to the House, all by the 3rd of December.

"There's an enormous amount to be done, which normally we do over six months, which we have to do in two-and-a-half or three weeks."

Nonetheless, O'Connor was confident the committee would succeed. "We'll get there," he said.

Green Party justice spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said the party was "disappointed and concerned" about the truncated select committee process, and had argued for either a longer period for submissions or a normal submission process.

"We don't think that democratic processes should be curtailed to push legislation through in this manner unless there's a very good reason. I think the question needs to be put to the minister as to what his reason is."

Justice Minister Andrew Little told Newsroom the Government was dealing with an imminent threat, and he was not "prepared to sit on my hands when it comes to matters of national security".

"This is an interim measure to deal with a real and growing risk while the review of the Terrorist Suppression Act is underway, which is not due for completion until next year."

Little said the control orders were narrowly focused but a necessity to deal with the risk of potential returning foreign fighters, and with the situation in Syria changing rapidly New Zealand passport holders were likely to seek to return at any time.

"This is a real risk and it is increasing by the day."

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