PM statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack – 18 March

Good afternoon everyone. I want to acknowledge that I have the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs with me in case there are any wider questions from a foreign policy perspective or any questions around contact that we’ve had from other world leaders over the course of the last 72 hours. 

Before I begin I want to acknowledge again and use this opportunity to again highlight 1737 as the contact number that anyone can text or call if they are feeling distress, if they have any mental health concerns for themselves or a loved one.  

We have had, I’m advised, over 500 calls or contacts to the 1737 number. It has ranged from people who simply feel distressed to those themselves — those who have been caught up in the terrorist attack on Friday. So it is a line that has specialist support available and I again encourage those who need it to utilise it.  

Let me give you an overview to begin with of the coming days. Tomorrow, as the Leader of the House has advised, members of Parliament will gather in the House at 2pm to make statements of condolence for victims of the Christchurch mosques terror attack. The House will then adjourn for the day and will meet again on Wednesday at 2pm for members’ day.

On Wednesday, I will return to Christchurch. I will be meeting again with first responders, including St John’s ambulance and front-line support staff. I plan on meeting with family members, but I’m also very mindful that families are receiving their loved ones for burial and I certainly intend, and I ask others also, to be respectful of course at this hugely sensitive time. 

Today Cabinet was expanded to include representatives from our confidence and supply support partner, the Green Party. It was an opportunity to discuss several key issues and pieces of work, and having all parties around the table has helped to expedite that process. I’ll run through now several preliminary decisions that have been made.

Cabinet today made in-principle decisions around the reform of our gun laws. I intend to give further detail of these decisions to the media and public before Cabinet meets again next Monday. This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer.

In the intervening period, we will be working hard and as quickly as we can to finalise some of the details around the decision Cabinet has made today and the consequences of it.

As a Cabinet, we were absolutely unified and very clear: the terror attack in Christchurch on Friday was the worst act of terrorism on our shores.

It was in fact one of the worst globally in recent times. 

It has exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws. 

The clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safer, the time to act is now. I know that this might for a short period create a small degree of uncertainty amongst some gun owners, including those who possess guns for legitimate reasons, and I particularly acknowledge those in our rural communities. I want to assure you that the work that we are doing is not directed at you.

In fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners in New Zealand will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur. I, in fact, believe that they will be with us.

In the meantime, I want to remind people: you can surrender your gun to the police at any time. In fact I have seen reports that people are, in fact, already doing this.

I applaud that effort, and if you’re thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so.

Today it was also agreed that there will be an inquiry to look at the specific circumstances leading up to the Christchurch mosques terror attack on March 15. The purpose of this inquiry is to look at what all relevant agencies knew or could or should have known about the individual and his activities, including his access to weapons and whether they could have been in a position to prevent the attack. 

It will look at whether there were any impediments to the sharing of information, such as legislative or intelligence sharing challenges. The key agencies we’ll be looking at include the New Zealand SIS, GCSB, Police, Customs, and Immigration I want to highlight again, though: this is an inquiry that these agencies absolutely support.

The inquiry will also look at the individual’s travel movements to and from New Zealand, and internationally; his activities in New Zealand; and his use of social media and his connection to others.

The terms of reference are currently being finalised, and decisions around who will lead the inquiry and what form it will take will also be made shortly. Our key considerations will be public confidence in the work, timeliness, and the management of classified information. We’re also mindful, of course, that criminal proceedings are under way.

The Government has also had preliminary discussions around ensuring New Zealanders have the ability to commemorate as one the lives lost at Deans Avenue and Linwood mosques. A number of vigils have already been held in local communities throughout New Zealand; I have no doubt that these will continue.

In fact, I encourage people to come together. While I will not be announcing the memorial date today, I can assure you that the Department of Internal Affairs will be working in conjunction with the Muslim community, iwi, local government, and the mayor of Christchurch, police, and other agencies.

I can confirm the memorial will not be held this week. We want to ensure that the priority for the coming days is the families’ opportunity to grieve together. I will, however, look to announce a date as soon as I am able. 

As I said yesterday, the families of those who have lost a loved one can apply for a funeral grant of around $10,000, which is made available via ACC.

What I’ve made clear to agencies today is that further costs should be covered upfront for these families taking their loved ones overseas. Details around these provisions are currently being finalised by officials, but Victim Support will help manage this process with the victims’ families.

There will continue to be high police visibility and presence over coming weeks in Christchurch. I understand this may concern some people, but it is not about a specific threat.

As I’ve said before, this is about taking a precautionary approach and providing reassurance as investigations continue into the terrorist attack on Friday.