Andrew Little warns Government initiatives responding to the 2019 terror attack will, at Budget time, come up against competing priorities. Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

The Government is urged to spend more to respond to 2019 terror attack. David Williams reports

When the roughly 800-page report landed, the Prime Minister distilled the Terror Attack Royal Commission’s message into one, simple premise.

“Muslim New Zealanders should be safe. Anyone who calls New Zealand home, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation should be safe,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“New Zealanders deserve a system that does its best to keep you safe, and that is what we are committed to building.

“But an apology would be hollow without action.

“So in order to ensure New Zealanders are safer the Government has agreed in principle with all 44 recommendations contained in the report.”

That was almost two years ago. With the benefit of hindsight it’s easier to see this Government’s priorities for action, and where, in some people’s eyes – including a ministerial advisory group – it is falling down.

The Royal Commission into the 2019 terror attack on two Christchurch mosques – in which 51 people were killed and dozens more were shot, not to mention those unharmed but traumatised – made sweeping recommendations designed to make the country safer and more inclusive.

Many things have been done. Up to June 2026, the Government has committed to spending $391 million on the response (not including the firearms buyback scheme), of which $71 million was spent up to June of this year.

The Office of Ethnic Communities was made a ministry, there’s an annual hui on countering terrorism and violent extremism, a new national research centre has been established, and tens of millions of dollars extra are being spent on intelligence and security services. Community learning hubs supporting ethnic communities have been set up in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

Terrorism laws have been broadened, although these changes are more to do with returning New Zealanders who have become foreign fighters, and the LynnMall attack.

Also, a coroner’s inquest is being held into the circumstances of the Christchurch terror attack.

On the negative side, there’s concern about how little is being spent directly with communities.

A Safer Communities Fund has been earmarked $6.8 million over four years, while there’s $2 million available through social cohesion grants. An Ethnic Communities Development Fund of $16.8 million over four years was committed to before the Royal Commission report was published.

There are other questions, like where is the new national intelligence and security agency? Hate speech reforms? A wider public conversation about social cohesion, national security, and preventing and countering terrorism?

“More investment will be required to make Aotearoa New Zealand safer and more inclusive.” – Arihia Bennett

Andrew Little was made Lead Coordination Minister for the Government’s Response to the Royal Commission report. A pivotal source of advice to Little is Kāpuia (meaning to gather in a bunch), a 28-strong group established in June last year.

Its latest letter has recently been uploaded to the website of the Department of The Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

“Countering racism, hate speech and hate crimes legislation have to be addressed now,” Kāpuia chair Arihia Bennett wrote in June.

Key foundations of the response are yet to be funded, such as “the new structure for delivering national security, adequacy of support for the affected community in Christchurch or funds for communities to engage, participate and lead locally in progressing social cohesion and national security”.

Bennett wrote: “More investment will be required to make Aotearoa New Zealand safer and more inclusive.”

The letter lists many matters as “red” – meaning Kāpuia is “concerned by a lack of clarity, a lack of funding or a lack of observable progress”. These include:

– Incitement and hate speech and reporting tools. “Kāpuia cannot emphasise enough the importance of seeing observable progress.”

– Taking another two years to develop a national action plan against racism, and fears faith won’t be included. “This means New Zealand will not be addressing these key concerns [of discrimination and racism] soon enough.”

– No clear public pathway for the funding of a new national security and intelligence agency.

– The need for equitable and sustainable support for affected whanau, survivors and witnesses of the attack, including discussions about restorative justice processes.

Bennett wrote: “Across government, communities and with the public generally there is still much that needs to change for Aotearoa to be that place where everyone feels included and for there to be increased confidence that attacks such as 15 March 2019 have a greater chance of being prevented.”

Little responded to Bennett on September 2, saying he’d shared Kāpuia’s letter with colleagues. Effective monitoring to measure the response was underway, led by DPMC, the letter said.

“The roopu’s (group’s) advice will usefully inform agencies as they consider possible future Budget initiatives for response related activity – including any initiatives that may support communities ongoing participation in the response.

“However, where Budget allocations are concerned, there will always be competing priorities and any such initiatives will be considered by Government in that context.

“This is accepting that the Budget is only one avenue for response funding initiatives and agencies will be continuing to explore all avenues to ensure the ongoing response work programme can be adequately funded.”

Why are these recommendations important?

The Royal Commission report from 2020 said: “It is apparent that the counter-terrorism effort was not functioning as a national security system should. It was functioning as a collection of agencies, operating largely in parallel, with some elements of coordination but little shared direction.”

Systemic change is needed, the commission said, including the creation of a national intelligence and security agency “that is well-resourced and legislatively mandated to be responsible for strategic intelligence and security leadership functions”.

The new agency was the second of the 44 recommendations but it’s yet to emerge.

Earlier this year, Abdur Razzaq Khan, of the Federation of Islamic Association (FIANZ), said the national security structure was basically unchanged. “The reporting may have slightly changed and there are more conversations on it, the structure’s exactly the same.”

(Razzaq is a member of Kāpuia but was speaking as a FIANZ representative.)

Little confirms to Newsroom the $391 million of confirmed Government spending doesn’t include a cent for a new agency. He justifies that by using a cart-before-the-horse argument.

“The work on that simply isn’t far enough advanced. I think the first stage is establish the nature and scope of any such organisation before then working out what the resourcing might look like.”

Some might say the Royal Commission has already done the work to justify the creation of a new agency.

Little says the Government brought forward the review of the Intelligence and Security Act, which would give a new agency statutory authority. (A report to the Intelligence and Security Committee is due by December 20.)

There is also a strategic review of national security, generally.

“It made sense that consideration of an agency, its scope and terms of reference and what have you, would follow that work.”

Advice on changes to the national security “machinery” will land next month – two years after the Royal Commission report was made public, with a second phase of advice in the first half of next year. Cabinet is expected to consider decisions related to the strategy in April, just before the Budget.  

Little says: “I’m expecting that advice on those other elements, the Intelligence and Security Act, and the national security strategy, will encompass advice on a new agency.”

Jacinda Ardern, pictured outside the Kilbirnie Islamic Centre and mosque in Wellington in 2019, is the Minister for National Security and Intelligence. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Royal Commission said the new agency should operate as the “sector lead and coordinator for strategic intelligence and security issues”, with its chief executive becoming the intelligence and security adviser to the prime minister and Cabinet, and chairing the Security and Intelligence Board or a new governance body.

The way Little puts it, officials are pondering where the agency would fit in current government structures.

“You’ve got the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, you’ve got functions spread across them, across the existing intelligence-gathering agencies, and so then setting up a new structure to fit in with the current apparatus, and with a new mission to provide that more strategic leadership, it was always going to take time, but it’s also in the context of reviewing statutory settings at the moment, as well as what we’re trying to do with national security.”

The big question is, will Aotearoa be safer?

There’s another obvious gap pointed out by the Royal Commission two years ago: “New Zealand law does not sufficiently protect people from hate-motivated crime and hate speech.”

The terrorist attack happened in “a context of widespread racism, discrimination and Islamophobia, where pre-judgements or hostile behaviours (including hate-based threats and attacks) are rarely recorded, analysed or acted on”, the Commission said.

Razzaq, of FIANZ, tells Newsroom: “At the moment, we have no safety net whatsoever. Absolutely none. Faith was the driver for the killing of our Muslim community. And faith is the number one issue, when you look at the even the DIA [Department of Internal Affairs] stats in terms of hate speech.”

Aliya Danzeisen, the Islamic Women’s Council’s national coordinator, says: “How can they deny the people that they spent so much time and they appointed and said, this was absolutely necessary to keep us safe?”

Government reform has been beset by a stuttering start, with public consultation hijacked by free speech concerns, and delays.

Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan wants to put the matter to rest. She told TVNZ’s Q+A programme this past weekend she will be making announcements on hate speech by the end of the year. She added: “I guarantee I will be introducing law I intend to have concluded and put into law by the next election.”

With or without compensation?

Recommendation 27 of the Royal Commission was for DPMC and other agencies to discuss with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses “what, if any, restorative justice processes might be desired and how such processes might be designed and resourced”.

What was envisaged was a victim-centred approach, “free from the bureaucratic system”. While a submission from those affected whānau, survivors and witnesses said restorative justice provided “an opportunity for accountability, to heal, to have a voice and vindication (including compensation in appropriate cases)”, the Commission said financial support, compensation or ex-gratia payments didn’t fit easily within its terms of reference.

“We leave them for direct discussion between those affected … and the government in light of the conclusions reached in this report.”

Minister Little says officials are seeking independent, expert advice on what restorative justice means.

“To the extent that members of the community do feel that they haven’t got the support they expected from agencies and the like, then we need to find out a way that that that can be expressed and that we can we can help to, as the name suggests, restore them.”

He adds: “On top of whatever it is the agencies are not doing, there is that sense that a community has been, on a collective basis, so badly violated, that we do need to understand how do we provide some reassurance and a sense of security and safety and belonging to them, and a restorative justice process might help in that regard?”

Bennett’s letter to Little, on behalf of Kāpuia, said there’s “an ongoing desire from affected communities for a discussion on compensation”.

Might some sort of payment be part of restorative justice?

Little says: “It’s hard to know what compensation could be paid, given there’s been financial support and support through other means already. So this is more, I think, about dealing with ongoing sense of violation and feeling fearful and insecure, and what we can do to do better in that respect.”

But how do you restore the people, Danzeisen, of the Islamic Women’s Council, asks, when many have lost their income providers?

(Danzeisen is also a Kāpuia member, who is speaking in her national coordinator role.)

“Why doesn’t he [Little] write exactly what hasn’t been restored then? What he believes hasn’t been restored?

“Why is an independent person needed if it doesn’t include compensation for the victims’ families?”

In another unexpected incident, the country compensated quake-affected home owners in Christchurch who couldn’t rebuild, Danzeisen says. “Yet they won’t give compensation for these people to rebuild their lives.”

A DPMC “response tracker” to the Royal Commission recommendations, dated July, said the department was “identifying appropriate expertise to lead the development of any restorative justice process”, and the appropriate timing.

Actually, the Government has already received independent advice on compensation.

Two years ago, former Christchurch councillor Raf Manji, now the leader of The Opportunities Party, suggested to DPMC a $35 million compensation package be paid to the families of the Shuhada, the injured and traumatised witnesses.

It was the right thing to do, he said back then. Now, his comments seem even firmer.

Manji says compensation has to be part of any conversation about restorative justice, and he accuses the Government of constantly ducking the issue. It’s not the right approach to leave payment decisions to the Accident Compensation Corporation, which is bound by bureaucratic rules about who was in work at the time, and the appropriate tax year.

“For the Government to just keep denying that [compensation] denies victims to express their sense of injustice, not just at the event, but actually the fact that it did happen, and it was a failure, essentially, of national security.”

There’s a good reason the Government needs to keep an open mind on compensation, Manji says – “this could go to the courts at some point”.

In December 2020, Arderns final words about the Royal Commission’s report were to the Muslim community.

“Thank you for the part you have played in ensuring this Royal Commission was comprehensive and contains practical actions that can now be put in place, to protect, care for and look after everyone. In the wake of such pain, I know that has been one of your goals. Now it’s up to all of us to make that a reality.”

Some, including Kāpuia, will say more action is needed if that rhetoric is to become a reality.

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

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