Speech to New Zealand’s Hui on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism – He Whenua Taurikura

Tēnā koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tātou katoa

I te tuatahi, kei te mihi atu ahau ki te mana whenua, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

Tēnā koutou katoa

Greetings to you, greetings to you, greetings to us all.

First, I acknowledge the mana whenua, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei

Greetings to you all.   

Ki a koutou katoa e manaaki nei i tēnei kaupapa

E kore nei e mimiti te puna o maioha

To you all that are taking care of our purpose for gathering.

I deeply appreciate your efforts (literally: the pool of appreciation will never diminish.)

He oti anō

Tuia te kawe

Tairanga ake te kawe

Ko te kawe oi

Ko te kawe o Te Whenua Taurikura

And so

Thread your arms through the handles of the responsibility

Raise the responsibility upon your back

It is the responsibility of a peaceful and prosperous land

Greetings to you all

Tēna tātou katoa, Tālofa lava, Shalom, As-salaam Alaikum

My greetings to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Thank you for welcoming us, hosting us and helping us with this important discussion on countering terrorism and violent extremism.

I see here today representatives from our communities, academia, members of civil society, and those from the private sector, NGOs and the public sector.

I acknowledge Minister Andrew Little, the Lead Coordination Minister of the Royal Commission and Minister of the NZSIS and GCSB, and Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan our Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities.

We remember the 51 Shuhadah from the March 15 attack and acknowledge survivors, along with their families and loved ones – and all those who have suffered the consequences of violent extremism or terrorism.

You are why we are here.

I’m also pleased to be here in person this year – after the fog kept me relegated to a screen last year, and I look forward to attending some of the important sessions that follow today.

The goal of this second Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Hui is to pursue a safer New Zealand, with a focus on prevention. And that takes all of us.

And not just everyone in this room, but the 5 million Kiwis outside of this room too.

And so today I want to use this opportunity to speak openly about the national security threats facing New Zealand. And what we all must do about them.

We do that with a lens on the global situation. But I also want to be very specific about what New Zealanders have told us, about what worries them, their views on our ability to act, and what more they need to play their part too.

Put simply, New Zealanders need to know more about the current and emerging threats to our national security – because ultimately we all have a role to play in preventing the worst, and being open about our risks is part of that.

So let’s just delve straight in.

Today National Security agencies released a draft National Security Long Term Insights briefing, the first of its kind in New Zealand.

These briefings are prepared independently by agencies, and are intended to help us plan for not just the next few years, but into the future.

It looks into the most significant threats New Zealanders are concerned about for the next decade, as well as the work we are doing to combat or prepare for those risks.

First of all it highlights 4 key global trends that impact our national security.

  • 1. Increasing competition between countries and the deterioration of the rules-based order. To bring that closer to home, it’s undeniable that we feel the effects of geo-political tensions. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has rippling social and economic impacts that we’ve seen cause a spike in fuel prices, food insecurity and it’s brought to the fore the threat of escalation or copy-cat action.
  • 2. Technology change that is impacting all aspects of life, creating benefits but also new risks. Technology can bring us closer together; but it also gives new means by which those who wish to do us harm can spread extreme views and dis-information. For example, recent analysis by Microsoft reports that New Zealanders were subject to a spike in exposure to Russian disinformation or propaganda online after December 2021, much of this related to Covid-19. This spike preceded an increase in protests against Covid-19 measures and other issues in New Zealand.
  • 3. The impact of climate change on the world’s natural resources and its role in more severe weather events. For New Zealand, this hits home on top of a significant threat of natural disaster – the likes of which we’ve seen recently in volcanic eruption, and with the ever present threat of earthquakes in our shaky isles.
  • 4. The ongoing economic, social and political effect of Covid-19 and any future pandemics.

None of that will surprise New Zealanders, in fact we care deeply about all of those issues.

And here we can dig deeper into those particular concerns.

Part of the long term insights briefing was a public perceptions survey, which provides us a representative view of the things that are worrying New Zealanders the most – and their views on how we’re equipped to manage those risks.

There were a couple of things that stood out to me.

Just 1 in 5 believe our security agencies share enough information about national security.

We learned that 4 out of 5 people are concerned about a number of threats touching their own lives in the next 12 months.

This dispels a myth that New Zealanders believe we are immune to national security threats, or that we’re somehow not important enough to be targeted, or the subject of harmful activity. It also tells us that New Zealanders are fully aware of the full range of risks we face.

In fact, here are the top 5 threats of most concern to New Zealanders over the next 12 months: natural disaster, misinformation, hacking, another major health epidemic and organised crime.

People have said their confidence in government agencies’ ability to protect or respond to threats is highest for natural disasters and terrorist attacks and lowest for misinformation and nuclear, chemical or biological attacks.

And there’s likely to be an explanation for that, which we can see in the survey itself. 

87 percent of New Zealanders are worried about the threat of natural disaster, which is not surprising given we are one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. This year in particular New Zealanders have been affected by flooding across the country.

But New Zealanders have also said this is a threat they feel the most prepared for, and have confidence in the government to manage, alongside terrorist attacks. We have proven that when disaster strikes, we can move quickly and decisively to help people, and we have integrated and coordinated systems through Civil Defence ready to go, and strong public advice on how to prepare. At local level, people see their libraries carry emergency water tanks, and emergency packs under desks at work.

Just last week, we had the annual ShakeOut, where our Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty joined students in Nelson for the drill. We have well-known resources like getready.govt.nz where people can go for information to get their homes, workplaces and schools ready.

We also heard that 81 percent of people are concerned about the threat posed by a health epidemic, which again not surprising is given we are still deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Again however, New Zealanders said they felt mostly prepared for health epidemics and more confident about the government’s ability to protect and respond to that challenge. This is testament too to our local CDEM groups, NEMA and the Ministry of Health.

Natural disasters and pandemics are most certainly on our minds, but they’re also something that we feel relatively well-prepared for.

Can we say the same of all our national security challenges?

Over 80 per cent of people have said they’re worried about the threat from mis- and dis information, hacking, and transnational organised crime. We are increasingly seeing these threats impacting our communities and our businesses.

In fact, 1 in 4 people felt that mis and disinformation was the greatest threat to them and their families. We are particularly concerned about the challenge of disinformation as we see this exacerbating a number of national security issues.

It is impacting liberal democracies worldwide, eroding trust in institutions, and our ability to respond to it as a society is being tested.

This is an area too, that is ill-defined, and so naturally, people are less certain about what the government is doing or can do to protect people, and what more they can do to prepare and protect themselves.

Greater efforts are needed to detect dis-information campaigns and networks, and disrupt them, while calling out those that sponsor this activity. We are committed to working with communities, media, academia, civil society, the private sector – especially our social media platforms to counter the threat of disinformation, and I will talk about this and the Christchurch Call in the second part of my speech today.

On hacking, we’ve seen the stark impact that cyber incidents can have on our infrastructure, such as with the Waikato DHB – where critical hospital computer systems, and phone lines were taken down, affecting services.

Cyber threats are a global issue, and our ability to address them requires international cooperation in agreeing on responsible behaviour online.

On the frontline, we have government agencies and groups working together to provide public information on how to keep ourselves, our families and our businesses safe online. The National Cyber Security Centre, CERT NZ, the New Zealand Police and Netsafe all work together to provide public reporting and advice.

Rounding off this list of threats, New Zealanders are concerned about transnational organised crime operating in and through New Zealand, causing harm to our communities and businesses.

Recent investigations have demonstrated how organised crime groups in New Zealand are actively growing their connections to offshore transnational crime networks and exploiting vulnerable communities to increase demand for illicit commodities.

Our efforts to respond to organised crime include anti-money laundering and asset recovery through intelligence sharing, working with international partners to prevent, detect and deter organised crime.

To counter this threat we’re also working more across maritime security, cyber security and emerging technologies, border security, economic security, and with partners in the Pacific.

Finally, I want to say this again. One very clear message we heard is that people want us to talk and share more about national security. That knowing more about the threats we face actually makes people feel more confident in our ability to respond to them.

And that holds true when it comes to the threat of terrorism.

We were forever changed on the 15th of March 2019.

A further attack in September 2021, where eight people were stabbed in a supermarket in the Auckland suburb of New Lynn by a violent extremist, further reinforced that terrorism and violent extremism is an active risk in New Zealand.

People can radicalise to violence when they come to see violence as a feasible tool to address their grievances and amplify their hate.

There must always be space for radical ideas; these are valued and vital in Aotearoa New Zealand as a free, open, democratic and progressive society.

However, when dehumanising and hateful ideas are part of ideologies that include hate and intolerance toward specific groups or communities, promoting or enabling violence, these may indicate a path toward violent extremism.

So what can we do?

I want to speak about four keys areas of work that will help to prevent violent extremism in New Zealand.

Research is a vital area of importance in the prevention space.

This year we launched He Whenua Taurikura, New Zealand’s National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

The Centre is in response to recommendation 14 of the Royal Commission of Inquiry and has been set up to be independent of government, which was really important to us, with its own governance board and led by Directors Professor Joanna Kidman and Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley.

The Centre brings together research organisations and institutes, civil society organisations, and government to research preventing and countering violent extremism, with a focus on understanding diversity and promoting social cohesion.

This New Zealand-specific research will play an essential role informing our national approaches.

I would like to acknowledge the inaugural Masters Scholarship recipients here today.

It is your work, and that of those who will follow you, that will shape policies of the future.

Our second key area of work is in the online environment.

The internet connects us together in an ever-growing exchange of ideas, information, and indeed, sadly in some cases, disinformation and violence.

As we are now so wholly dependent on the internet, New Zealand continues to champion it as a force for good – advancing social and economic wellbeing of individuals and communities, and forging positive connections.

But the connections go both ways.

As we all know, the Christchurch attacks reflected an evolution in terrorism and violent extremism as the attacker connected through online platforms with others who were radicalised to hateful views and violence.

The attacks were in turn amplified via livestream, and proliferated around the world in the days, weeks and months following.

Nearly three and a half years on from its establishment, the Christchurch Call remains at the forefront of global efforts to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The Call is underpinned by the principles of a free, open, and secure internet, with human rights and fundamental freedoms at the core.

More than 120 governments, online service providers, and civil society organisations have pledged to support the Call’s commitments.

Among other things, we have achieved an increase in transparency of online service providers, a stronger understanding of algorithm challenges, and a strengthened and interoperable crisis response system.

Yet there is more to do.

Just over a month ago, I met with Christchurch Call Leaders from governments, tech companies, and civil society, in New York.

It was clear to me that Leaders and the Community hold an ongoing deep belief in the mission of the Call.

And they are more motivated and determined than ever to build on the Call’s progress with further action, particularly as we encounter a changing online and societal landscape.

We agreed to further work over the coming year to address the online service providers that remain outside of our Call Community.

We will launch work to support the safe and secure adoption of new technologies, which will change our online experiences and the landscape of terrorism and violent extremism.

In this work, we must consider youth and children as some of the most vulnerable users of new technologies.

We will also work on gender-based aspects of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

We will advance our work towards responsible algorithms, and in fact, we have already begun work to better understand algorithms with the launch of the Christchurch Call Initiative on Algorithmic Outcomes.

This initiative empowers independent researchers to understand the algorithms we interact with, and which underpin our online experiences. 

Studying these impacts won’t be easy. We need to be mindful of privacy and proprietary information, and the initiative aims to address these issues.

We must make progress in this area, so we can build effective interventions to protect and empower people with choices both online and offline.

The third area of work I want to highlight today is the development of our Strategic Framework for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, which includes solutions and approaches developed by society for society.

The Royal Commission identified gaps in our system and recommended that as we develop our strategies for countering terrorism and violent extremism, we include a range of sectors, not just government agencies in developing our approach.

Radicalisation to violence is highly individualised. There is no single model to explain why people choose to mobilise to violence.

Because of this a broad programme of initiatives is required across a range of prevention and countering spectrum areas, seeking four thematic outcomes:

  • Individuals that are down, or heading down, a path of radicalisation to violence are supported from further harm.
  • Messages of hate and intolerance that promote violent extremism are countered
  • A safer online environment mitigating risks of radicalisation
  • Enhanced awareness and understanding of radicalisation and extremism.

I want to recognise the huge amount of time, energy and ideas, as well as constructive feedback many of you here today have provided through this process of development.

The prevention framework is set to be released at the end of the year and alongside the framework we have approved from Budget 2022 a $3.8 million for the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Strategic Fund.

The fund, over three years, will provide grants to civil society and community organisations to support them to deliver initiatives for building resilience to violent extremism and radicalisation.

Of course, one of the most important ways we can prevent terrorism and violent extremism is by being a cohesive nation, where people feel they belong, where all cultures are respected and celebrated and where everyone can participate in and contribute to social and community activities.

Aotearoa New Zealand has relatively high levels of social cohesion, but we don’t want to take that for granted as there is more work to do, which Minister Radhakrishnan spoke about yesterday.

Talking about national security can be tricky, but it’s something we need to do more.

I’m committed to a public conversation on national security, and to advancing this conversation over the next months, as we continue to make progress on implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

This includes developing our first National Security Strategy, which will embed this work for years to come.

This conversation on our collective national security requires trust in others, without seeing all the evidence. It requires courage to face serious issues, rather than living in fear. It requires openness and compassion, instead of suspicion and self-interest.

I believe we can, and must do this, together.

Thank you once again for being part of this incredibly important event and conversation.

And thank you for having me in your sessions today.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tātou katoa.