Wellington Scoop

NZ prudent to retain high security alert, says PM

Report from RNZ
New Zealand remains on high alert because of international evidence that talk of copycats and retaliation persists for four to six weeks after an attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this morning.

Speaking to Morning Report, Ms Ardern said there was no specific threat to New Zealand after the mosque terror attacks in Christchurch, but the country was still on high alert because of the potential for other threats.

“There is an acknowledgement from international evidence and experiences – and keep in mind that New Zealand has not gone through this experience before – that in a four-to-six-week period afterwards there does tend to be talk of retaliation, talk of copycats,” she said.

“When there’s a change – and we went from low to high – that triggers two things: one is it triggers a response internally from government, departments and agencies so it means they step up their response, [secondly] we change the way we deal with issues at the border.

“It’s considered to be prudent and vigilant if we maintain a high level of responsiveness in the wake of an attack like this.

She said NZSIS and police were continuing to follow up anything that was being brought to them.

“My message to anyone would be, if you see anything online you consider threatening, report it. They are continuing to follow up any concerns raised by the community more generally as individuals respond in the wake of the attack.”

Parliament will now need to grapple with whether the country’s surveillance laws need to be tightened.

Ms Ardern said she wanted to wait for the Royal Commission of Inquiry, announced yesterday, before considering whether to expand the powers of New Zealand’s NZSIS and GCSB spy agencies.

She said she wanted to wait for evidence that it was a lack of resources – rather than where those resources were placed, or the known limitations of surveillance generally – which was to blame for the shooter not being detected.

“What I haven’t had evidence around is whether or not their powers limited them from doing the work they needed to do,” she said.

“The question we’re rightly asking here is were we in the places we needed to be in order to assess intelligence.

“Actually you would find most western democracies do not engage in mass surveillance of activity generally on the internet, we’re not alone in that.

“Obviously this individual was not on a watchlist and that’s known … equally the question is also whether or not the resource and capacity was being directed in the right place.”

She said it is the NZSIS that focuses on intelligence gathering – including human intelligence gathering – but said the technological ability to monitor closed groups was a challenge.

“Do they have the ability to engage? Yes. Is it always easy in an environment where there is encryption, where there is a closed group? That’s a challenge for every western democracy.

She said funding for the agencies had been boosted already.

“Those are legitimate questions. We do want to make sure that when it comes to issues of threat and safety for New Zealand that our resources are being directed in the right place.

“Right now we’re three years into a four-year scale up because there was acknowledgement that we had an underresourced set of agencies: $169 million over four years has been put in – that hasn’t been completed yet.

However, she defended the agencies underspending on their budgets, saying that was to be expected with recruitment. Ms Ardern said resignations had not been offered to her.

“We’re in a period where actually we’re still responding to these, but equally I do want the royal commission to look at this properly. Assurances shouldn’t come from me and they shouldn’t come from the heads of the NZSIS and the GCSB or the minister in charge. It should be independent.”

Nigel Hampton QC, who has represented families at royal commissions into the Pike River disaster and the Canterbury earthquakes, said the inquiry into security agencies will have to get behind walls of secrecy.

To make any sense, it will have to explore the methods of operation of security agencies, which may lobby for information not to be made public, he told Morning Report.