29 Nov 2014

Terror threat not overplayed - National

9:07 pm on 29 November 2014

National MPs have rejected accusations the Government has been exaggerating the risk of terrorist attack to rush through its anti-terrorism legislation.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee finished hearing submissions on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill this morning.

Watch: Prime Minister John Key discusses New Zealand's terror threat level (13 October 2014)

The bill, which passed its first reading last Tuesday, would extend the period for which the Government can cancel a passport from 12 months to three years.

It would also allow the SIS to carry out greater surveillance than it does now - including, in special cases, without a warrant for up to 48 hours.

The committee is expected to consider its response on Monday before reporting back to Parliament on Tuesday.

The Government has said it wants the bill passed before the House rises for Christmas on 11 December.

Many people making submissions on the bill said New Zealand faced little threat of an attack. Others condemned the Government for rushing it through without proper consultation.

Committee chair Mark Mitchell challenged those who said the Government had exaggerated the risks.

"The Government has not tried to overplay or promote the threat level anything more than other than what it is. In fact, quite the opposite," he said.

"We've tried to make sure - or certainly the Prime Minister has tried to ensure - that there isn't alarm, and there isn't a chance for too much concern or panic to grow amongst our communities."

Mr Mitchell said the Government had a responsibility to keep New Zealanders safe.

Rebecca Kitteridge, Director of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service

NZ SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge is expected to appear again before the select committee on Monday. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Labour MPs David Shearer, left, and Phil Goff respond to Prime Minister John Key's security speech.

Labour foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer (L) and defence spokesperson Phil Goff are calling for changes to the bill. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

More than 600 people made submissions, despite having just two days to do so.

Labour's defence spokesperson Phil Goff said the committee had received the normal thorough submissions from groups like the Law Society.

"We also had a lot of New Zealanders that said 'we've never been before a select committe before but we're worried about this'," he said.

"They didn't have an axe to grind, they weren't activists, they were ordinary New Zealanders that said 'why is the Government ramming this though when this is the very sort of legislation that needs proper consideration and proper input from people like us'."

But Mr Goff said if changes were not made to the bill, Labour could not support it.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer also urged the Government to make changes to the bill if it wanted to retain Labour's support.

"Probably the most important is the principle that, if there was a very urgent security matter, that the SIS would be able to conduct a search without a warrant, while going through the process of getting one," he said.

"I think that's a principle that we haven't changed up until now and that really is something that we would have to look at very, very carefully before agreeing to that."

He also criticised the Government for rushing the bill through Parliament.

Mr Mitchell said the committee would consider making changes to the bill.

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