Speech to NZ Institute of International AffairsPrime Minister National Security and Intelligence
Members of the diplomatic community.
Distinguished guests, members of the Institute, ladies and gentlemen.
As Prime Minister I have overarching responsibility for New Zealand’s national security.
That covers a wide range of threats and risks, from earthquakes to espionage, and cyber-attacks to conflicts between states.
It’s about protecting our way of life and the values that shape our society.
The Government takes its national security obligations very seriously.
We have an obligation to ensure New Zealanders are safe at home or abroad.
We have an obligation to maintain the integrity of our democratic system, our institutions, and the systems and processes of government.
We have an obligation to secure our sea, air and electronic lines of transport and communication into and out of New Zealand. We decide who comes here and on what conditions, and we decide who can make use of our resources.
We have an obligation to support stability in our region – in the Pacific, the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.
And we have an obligation to support stability and the rule of law internationally.
New Zealand is known for its integrity, reliability and independence, and I’m very grateful for the endorsement we received from the international community in our recent election to the United Nations Security Council.
Given the nature of national security, I don’t give many speeches about it.
But I want to talk to you today – and to New Zealanders – about how our risk and threat profile is changing, the challenges we face, and how the Government is responding to them.
Much of that is due to the rapid rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
Over the last two years the Sunni extremist group has seized substantial territory in northern Iraq and northern Syria.
It claims to be the leader of the entire Muslim world and has decreed borders between Islamic countries to be invalid.
New Zealanders will have seen the brutal and distressing methods ISIL uses, including beheading displays and mass killings. These deserve the strongest condemnation.
ISIL’s ability to motivate Islamist radicals, as well as its growth, ambition, resources and methods, make it a brutal threat, not only to stability in the Middle East, but regionally and locally too.
ISIL is well-funded and highly-skilled at using the internet to propagate extremist material and gain recruits.
It has amassed financial resources by seizing banks and oil resources, effectively taxing controlled areas, kidnapping for ransom, and drawing upon an international financing network.
It is widely regarded as the richest terrorist entity in history.
It is estimated ISIL has around 12,000 to 15,000 foreign terrorist fighters, of which as many as 3,000 hold Western passports from a range of countries.
The rise of such a well-resourced, globally-focused terrorist entity, highly skilled in recruitment techniques utilising social media, is a game changer for New Zealand.
I don’t want to overstate the risks, but they are real and we should not shy away from acknowledging the facts.
ISIL exposes us to a type of threat that we lack both the legislative tools and resources to combat.
We need to have both a short-term strategy, designed to deal with the immediate threat to our national security, and a longer-term strategy, designed to deal with the root causes of extremism.
Today I intend to outline, as clinically and clearly as I can, the nature of the immediate threat to national security.
As in other Western countries, ISIL has been successful in recruiting New Zealanders to its cause.
Government agencies have a watch list of between 30 and 40 people of concern in the foreign fighter context.
These are people in or from New Zealand who are, in various ways, participating in extremist behaviour.
Some of those on the watch list have travelled to Syria to engage in fighting and remain there.
Others are ISIL supporters who have tried to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight, and who have been prevented from leaving by cancellation of their passports.
Some are people involved in funding terrorism, people who are trying to radicalise others, and people who themselves are becoming radicalised and interested in fighting for ISIL.
While you will appreciate the limited nature of what I can say, it is important to note that there are individuals here who are attracted to carrying out domestic attacks of the type we have seen prevented in Australia and recently take place in Canada.
Our agencies do everything in their powers to prevent that happening here and to keep New Zealanders safe.
I want to stress that none of these people are representative of the New Zealand Muslim community as a whole.
The Muslim community is a peaceful one which makes a valuable contribution to New Zealand.
I know the vast majority of Muslim New Zealanders are as distressed by the actions of ISIL and its violent extremist message as anyone.
As a Government we are doing what we can to prevent New Zealanders going off to fight for ISIL and brutally killing innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria.
Some may ask why we cancel their passports and prevent them travelling rather than just letting them go.
But I think most New Zealanders understand that we do not want to have a reputation for exporting foreign terrorist fighters to places which already have more than enough of them.
And there is a UN Security Council resolution on taking action against such people which New Zealand is required to comply with.
Should they return to New Zealand fully radicalised and skilled in fighting, they would represent a significant threat to the safety of New Zealanders.
So we have been cancelling people’s passports where necessary.
But even those radicalised New Zealanders who have been prevented from travelling are a distinct threat to our safety and security.
People who are prevented from performing terrorist acts abroad can turn their minds to terrorist acts at home, as the people of Canada experienced in recent weeks.
In addition to those on the watch list, there are another 30 to 40 on a list of people requiring further investigation.
These people could well be added to the watch list or even given a clean bill of health. We will not know until those investigations can be properly carried out.
Recently, officials took the decision to raise our national threat level from Very Low to Low.
That means that while previously the threat of a terrorist attack was assessed as unlikely, it is now assessed as possible but not expected.
The threat level is still below our partner countries, although from time to time we see specific threats emerge that we deal with on a case-by-case basis.
I want to assure New Zealanders that our agencies are doing everything they can to monitor the potential threat posed by radicalised individuals.
But as Prime Minister, and Minister for National Security and Intelligence, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t ask whether there was more we could do to address this risk.
My Government will ensure the agencies have the resources and tools they need to do this work.
Shortly after the election, I established an urgent review of legislative settings in relation to foreign fighters.
It was narrow and tightly focused, looking only at measures that can add to the safety and security of New Zealand in the short term.
A more comprehensive review of legislative settings will occur in a broader intelligence review that is required under law to begin by the middle of next year.
Today I can announce that the Cabinet has signed off on a series of proposals for law changes in the short-term – ones that cannot wait for the longer review due to the rapidly evolving environment.
I intend to seek broad political support to pass very limited legislation in a responsible way.
First, it is my intention to give the Minister of Internal Affairs the ability to cancel a passport on the grounds of national security for up to three years.
At the moment, he or she can only do that for up to one year.
There will be safeguards built into the extended period, including a periodic review every 12 months which the person involved will be able to submit to.
As is the case now, the person would retain the ability to appeal or seek a judicial review of the Minister’s decision.
It is my expectation that applications for the cancellation of a passport for a period of longer than a year would be rare.
Second, I intend to allow the Minister of Internal Affairs to suspend a passport or travel document for a temporary period of no more than 10 working days.
This power would be used in circumstances where urgent action is required but time is not available to prepare a full package of information to support a cancellation.
It would allow agencies to take action to prevent foreign fighters from travelling should information come to light late in their planning phase.
The passport suspension would allow time for a full cancellation process to follow.
Third, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service will be given a funding injection of almost $7 million across the current and next financial year to increase the number of staff it has available to work on monitoring and investigating foreign terrorist fighters.
As I noted earlier, while we know of between 30 and 40 individuals who are on the watch list, there is also another group of people who require further investigation.
The funding injection for the SIS will allow it to continue to focus on the highest risk individuals but also strengthen its understanding of the potential threat posed by others.
Finally, I also want to update one particular aspect of the SIS’s surveillance powers, in relation to video surveillance.
It may surprise some people to hear that the SIS cannot generally undertake visual surveillance in a private setting or which would involve trespass onto private property.
This means, for example, that the SIS cannot install a video camera in a private premise even if it was for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, like people training with weapons.
This issue was dealt with on the Police’s behalf in the Search and Surveillance Act in 2012.
I am proposing that the SIS be given the power under warrant, modelled on the existing Search and Surveillance Act.
I am also proposing that the SIS be given an emergency surveillance power for a period not exceeding 48 hours, where it could, at the direction of its Director and subject to the Inspector General’s oversight, conduct urgent surveillance before a warrant can be issued.
This would allow the Service to investigate urgent situations while paperwork is prepared for the full warrant process.
In order to use this power, the Director will have to be satisfied that the threshold for issuing a warrant would be met. I also expect the SIS to report publicly on an annual basis how many times it has used this power.
There are further technical changes I am proposing, but these are the five main outcomes of the review.
These changes will strengthen our national security settings and I trust other political parties will recognise them as responsible and narrow. They will also be subject to a sunset clause.
So that is the first response I want to talk about today – the package of short term legislative and funding measures.
The second response to ISIL is New Zealand’s contribution to the international coalition opposing that terrorist entity.
We have discussed the threat of ISIL with many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, including with our Five Eyes partners, and that has provided a base for our decision-making.
So I want to address that Five Eyes relationship briefly.
Our partnership with Five Eyes started in World War II and since then has provided New Zealand with global information and reach on international security and intelligence issues that we could never have achieved on our own.
The information and support of our Five Eyes partners will be an important part of how we deal with the threat of ISIL at home and abroad.
But I can be completely clear: Five Eyes does not cost us our independence.
We have carved out our own independent foreign policy over decades now.
We take pride in our independent foreign policy.
As a small trading nation, our prosperity depends on the international rules-based system.
We do not shy away from taking our share of the burden when that system is threatened, but we make independent decisions that suit our principles, role and size.
That is what shaped our contributions in places like Afghanistan and Timor Leste, and we will also take an independent, New Zealand approach to any decisions we make about ISIL.
There are four areas where New Zealand is preparing to make a contribution to the coalition against ISIL.
The first area that we are looking at carefully is intelligence.
To manage a threat like this we need to be well informed and share information with our partners.
This is exactly what our intelligence agencies are for. We will be stepping up our contribution to intelligence operations that offer opportunities to further understand and potentially disrupt ISIL.
And we will build our capability to monitor threats from any offshoots of ISIL that threaten us at home.
I’m not going to go into the details of that intelligence response.
The second area I want to address is diplomatic.
ISIL is not a short-term threat – there is a lot of work to be done and it is a long game.
Defeating ISIL will mean winning the hearts and minds of those vulnerable to its destructive message.
New Zealand as a good international citizen, and as a country now elected to serve on the UN Security Council, needs to play its part in ensuring that the longstanding and some would say intractable problems of the Middle East are addressed.
There is little doubt that lack of movement towards a two-state solution in relation to Palestine, and the recent high number of civilian casualties in Gaza, serve to make the task of recruiters to extremist causes a significantly easier one.
The unresolved issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities hangs over the region as well.
We also need to redouble efforts towards reaching a political solution to the violent stalemate in Syria. This has been another cause of ISIL’s rise, and has seen almost 200,000 killed, and led to more than 3 million Syrians fleeing their country.
Over the next two years we have the opportunity to attempt to ensure that the United Nations Security Council, designed to address these major issues of stability and security, lifts its game.
In our region too there is an opportunity for greater diplomatic effort, including working with our close friends and neighbours in Indonesia, Malaysia and others in the region, which have Muslim populations that are targets for extremist recruiters.
They too are looking for ways of dealing with this threat.
We have already taken steps to lift our diplomatic efforts with these neighbours, and to play our part in a more focused regional counterterrorism effort. We will continue that work.
Thirdly, I want to address humanitarian assistance. We must not lose sight of what is happening now on the ground.
The situations in Syria and Iraq are humanitarian emergencies at the most extreme scale with millions of people displaced by conflict.
New Zealand has provided $13.5 million in aid to the region since the start of the Syria crisis in 2011 and I am pleased to announce a further $1 million contribution today towards the needs of refugees and the internally displaced.
We will be looking at further assistance to meet the needs of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing their countries.
Finally, there is the question of whether New Zealand is prepared to play its part in the capacity-building that is clearly required if Iraq is to have a future as a law-abiding democratic country that treats all of its citizens with respect.
In this regard we need to remember that the seeds of ISIL’s success lie in the failure of the Maliki regime to adhere to acceptable standards of governance, and to treat all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion, with respect.
It would, in my view, be highly unrealistic for us to expect those features to dramatically improve under the al-Abadi government without significant international support.
And it would be unreasonable for New Zealand to expect that international support to be provided without our country being prepared to play our modest part.
Quite what this means in relation to the development of good institutions – better Police, Courts, Parliamentary process and the like – will only become clear later.
But I believe we should signal a general willingness to play a part.
In relation to the more immediate task of assisting in building a disciplined and efficient military to maintain peace and security, we have a more complex decision to make.
While building a modern Iraqi military is clearly important, New Zealand cannot, and should not, fight Iraqis’ battles for them.
So today I am ruling out New Zealand sending SAS or any troops into combat roles in Iraq.
Our military can, and may well, play a part in building the capability and capacity of the Iraqi forces.
It’s what we’re good at and we have a proven track record of doing such work in Afghanistan.
Should New Zealand military personnel be deployed in Iraq they would be behind the wire and limited to training local forces in order to counter ISIL and legitimately protect innocent people.
Cabinet has asked for further advice from the military on this training option which would be filled by regular forces.
The further advice will take some time to be completed.
It will involve the assessment of how safe and secure a training location is and whether our security requirements could be met.
We are talking to our longstanding partner Australia about what they are doing to help train the Iraqi forces and how we might help.
New Zealand military planners will travel to the Middle East to assess the training option and then provide further information to Cabinet.
We are also looking at where our military could make a contribution outside Iraq, by supporting more longstanding operations where our partners have relocated resource to address ISIL.
All of this will be carefully thought through before final decisions are made and we are not yet committed to any military option.
What we will do is make a contribution that is in the best interests of New Zealand and in line with our values and skills.
I have no doubt some will argue when we do so, we increase risk to our people domestically, regionally and internationally.
My view is that there is already risk in all of those areas.
And the risk associated with ISIL becoming stronger and more widespread far outweighs that.
Ladies and gentlemen, New Zealand has long been portrayed as having a benign threat environment.
It gives me no pleasure to tell you that is changing.
As a Government we are focused on responsibly addressing the risks that the rapid rise of ISIL presents to us locally, regionally and internationally.
New Zealanders can be sure we are taking careful and responsible steps to protect their safety and security and we will continue to do so.
Our national security is something that affects all New Zealanders and all of them have a stake in it.