Māori Party should have opposed the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill outright

The Māori Party have said they are only supporting the first reading of the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill, and note their strong reservations to the current text and processes for consultation on the Bill.  I’m not sure about other party members, but I personally would have preferred to see the Party opposing the Bill outright. Like the NZ Greens.

However, I am a little confused over the speech given by Marama Fox. On the one hand, it details some heavily weighted opposition to the Bill. For instance, Fox expresses deep concern about discrimination and making a person stateless by confiscating their passport, warrantless surveillance. In particular she refers to a:

…well-known and public linkage that has been made in our own jurisdiction about a supposed association between Māori activism and terrorist activity. We do not want a repeat of Operation Eight.

On the other hand, Fox concludes her speech stating:

We have strong and heartfelt concerns about the possible implications of this bill, but we also believe it is irresponsible to take a stand without hearing from those New Zealanders who take up the call on human rights on our behalf. We support the first reading to enable that kōrero to happen.

I don’t quite understand what this actually means.  It appears to suggest that the Party support the Bill so that it can be debated despite not supporting much – if any, of what is contained in the Bill.

The issue I have is not only with the Bill but also with the more strategic ramifications. The government did not require the Māori Party to support this Bill through first reading. It had the numbers through its other coalition partners and the Labour Party.

The party could have opposed it and stood with the Greens on this issue in calling for broader public consultation. Thing is, it would have gone to select committee stage anyway because Māori Party support was not needed to get it there.

On the manner in which the legislation was introduced (leaked) to the public, Dr Kennedy Graham (SIS spokesperson, NZ Greens) maintains:

It is not a positive sign of a government seeking broad public support

Graham goes on to say that:

John Key has not made a case for rushing through counter-terrorism laws…[and] there has been no compelling evidence put forward… for why these changes need to be rushed through without proper public consultation.

He also emphasised that:

the Bill proposes wide ranging changes that compromise the privacy and civil liberties of New Zealanders

And like Fox, alludes to Operation 8, noting:

…we have seen poor intelligence legislation result in illegal activities in the past, we don’t want a repeat of that

This was an opportunity for the Māori Party to show that they were prepared to stand against the ramming through of legislation that empowers what appears to be an evolving Police State. Interestingly and relevant here, Fox also draws a link between violence away and violence at home. In my view, a natural extension of this would be to contextualise current affairs, i.e. the events in Ferguson in the US which illustrate the reprehensible consequences of empowering a Police State with the racism and injustice that come with it. Especially when we consider how, as Fox addresses, Māori and other marginalised communities are profiled. We need to be particularly mindful of our Muslim communities with respect to this particular legislation who are likely to be unfairly targeted by it.

As it stands, the Party will probably have to deal with the fallout of having supported the Bill at first reading, even if they don’t go on to support it at subsequent stages. If the Bill does become law (and it will) and its provisions are abused then there will be public outcry, and every party that supported the Bill will be punished for their support. Of course, others may argue that the Bill might actually do what the government is saying it is intended to do, which I suppose could make a hero of the government. But past experience should warn us, of how easily and slyly those empowered use those powers. In my view, supporting the Bill even if only superficially at a first reading, sends the wrong message and may create perception issues that follow the Party into the next election.  The only party cleared here are the Greens who stood strongly against it.

Addendum:

(26/11/2014)

FYI: I was just advised that the Māori Party voted with the Labour Party to try to get the consultation period extended and to have the Bill taken out of urgency. Although this still doesn’t change my view as set out above.

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