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Source: New Zealand Government

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Can I begin by acknowledging the 51 shuhada, their families and the Muslim community. It is because of the atrocious violent act that was done to them which has led ultimately to this, the start of a dialogue and a conversation about how we as a nation respond to the forces that led to that event.

Can I acknowledge Parliamentary colleagues including my Ministerial colleague Hon Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Labour List MP Ibrahim Omer, Green List MP Golriz Ghahraman and National’s Member for Tauranga Hon Simon Bridges, as well as Mayor of Christchurch HW Hon Lianne Dalziel and Mayor of Waimakariri District HW Dan Gordon.

Can I also acknowledge the organisers of this two day event. Officials from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have coordinated to provide this environment where we can talk together, discuss, and ask questions of those who have lived experience as well as experts.

He Whenua Taurikura was always going to be an ambitious and challenging event. I do not think there has previously been such a large and diverse group of 300 people called together to talk about such a challenging issue, and to start a national dialogue about that issue.

We are doing that knowing there will be disagreement. We are doing it respectfully. Thank you to all of you for coming from all parts of the country and many communities to participate.

As the Prime Minister has said, this is the start of an important conversation that we need to have. We don’t only need to have that conversation because the Royal Commission of Inquiry has recommended it. We need to do it because it’s the right thing to do.

I’m here in two capacities, as Lead Coordination Minister for the Government’s Response to the Royal Commission’s Report into the Terrorist Attack on the Christchurch Mosques and also the Minister responsible for our intelligence agencies the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Today I want to talk about how the government is responding to the Royal Commission of Inquiry report and then about our intelligence agencies specifically.

Last year the Royal Commission handed down 44 recommendations which the government has accepted in-principle. Now we are in the process of implementing them. Some of the recommendations are short term and some are long term, but we are committed in-principle to them all.

The variety of those recommendations is considerable, including gun law changes and vetting processes for firearm ownership, law changes on hate speech and hate crimes, community initiatives to strengthen social cohesion, education initiatives to help learning and understanding, and the work of the police and security agencies.

These are significant issues and some will take quite some time to complete because they require learning, understanding, dialogue and consultation. Building a truly more cohesive social will take years, not weeks or months.

Part of the challenge we must rise to is creating the environment for a better understanding. To allow ourselves as a nation – and all of us – to talk about the national security threats that we have, including terrorism, including the issues we have domestically and the influences we are exposed to globally. To just start really talking.

As a Minister I’m of course wanting to hear what the government should be doing. But it’s also about what us as communities, citizens and individuals should be doing as well.

The dialogue that we start over these two days is also the basis for establishing a National Centre of Excellence to focus on diversity, social cohesion, and preventing and countering violent extremism. I am grateful to the talented academics who have agreed to participate over the next two days, many of whom have engaged in important research in this area for some time. The quality of the public debate will be led by that thought leadership, drawing on the international research and our own New Zealand strands of intellectual inquiry including mātauranga Māori.

We have a challenge to generate data about what is really happening. Police have established Te Raranga | The Weave programme to have their front line officers gather information about hate crime and hate incidents and better respond to it. We need to know the incidence of hate motivated crime, the context in which it’s happening, and who is committing offences.

I am very pleased that we are in the final stages of fulfilling the Royal Commission’s recommendation to establish an Implementation Oversight Advisory Group (or more colloquially Ministerial Advisory Group).That Group’s job will be to ensure the government is fulfilling its commitments to implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations and holding the government to account. But I think that group has the potential to play a much richer role in the future building of this nation.

To date we have made 28 appointments to the Ministerial Advisory Group and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu chief executive Arihia Bennett MNZM has generously agreed to serve as its chair. A number of the members are here at this hui and they are also a very diverse group. Their first formal meeting is in couple of weeks.

If we support this group properly then its strength will be not only in observing and advising the government on how to follow through on its commitments to implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations, but the voice that it will bring generally on the big issues of better social cohesion, safer communities, better education, and all the work going across the public service to fulfil our ambition to make New Zealand a truly safe and secure place for all of the people who live here.

I want to turn now to the intelligence and security agencies, and the work they are doing and the response they are making to this important challenge.

One of my responsibilities as Minister Responsible for the NZSIS and GCSB is to sign out every intelligence warrant the agencies use to undertake the activities they need to undertake in order to gather intelligence to understand the threats we face as a country.

So I have an understanding of what it is that they do and what they are dealing with.

Some of the more serious warrants are not only signed by the Minister. In those cases the warrants are also reviewed by Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants, who is always a retired High Court Judge, to give additional scrutiny – and this is especially the case when a warrant is being issued in relation to a New Zealand citizen.

What I want to say about that is that when the agencies come to me for an intelligence warrant then they must meet a very high threshold. Because the powers have are very intrusive. It would be difficult to be an intelligence and security agency without intrusive powers. Those powers are have to be exercised in a way that is secret, because if they were not secretive then they likely couldn’t gather much useful intelligence that would help us to keep the community safe.

But they are intrusive powers, so they must satisfy me and sometimes the Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants that the facts before them warrant the use of those intrusive powers. Their warrant applications must meet a very high standard to be accepted, and they do.

As we start to think about the indicators of the signals of hate activity and hate crime, and as we think about what might motivate person to violence against fellow citizens, then it is those considerations that we need to have a good grip of when we decide where it is that we set the threshold for the exercise of those intrusive powers.

After my almost four years as Minister responsible I have come to the view that there are two diametrically opposed public views about the intelligence agencies, depending on what the circumstances are.

The first is a view that we should not have agencies that have intrusive powers and that there is never a justification to breach individuals’ privacy no matter how dangerous those individuals’ intent might be.

The second is a view that our intelligence agencies have failed if they have not kept track of every citizen, do not know everything about us, and do not monitor – or even control – everything that happens on the internet.

I think if we’re honest with ourselves it is somewhere in the middle there where we have and indeed should draw the line for the responsible discharge of powers by security and intelligence agencies with a mission to keep the country safe.

But we have never really had a mature dialogue about that. Now we might have the opportunity to do so.

We do that when we understand the threat. So having a discussion about terrorism, and therefore also counter-terrorism, is a great place to start when we also think about the related issue which is about what sort of powers of state should there be to undertake those counter-terrorism activities to keep us safe.

One of the recommendations that the Royal Commission of Inquiry has made is to ensure that our security and intelligence agencies do have the capability, technology and means to do the job they have to do – not only to gather the information, and also to analyse and process it and draw reasonable and reliable conclusions from it. The government is continuing to make investments to enable our agencies to do that sort of thing.

But I think one of the important points that came out of the Royal Commission of Inquiry report is that when it comes to matters of national security, whether it is terrorism, or other issues such as foreign interference and espionage by states, stealing trade secrets, cyber intrusion or otherwise seeking to undermine us and our safety, these are not issues that the state and its agencies can deal with alone.

Yes, we must have those agencies. Yes, those agencies must be properly resourced. Yes, they must have powers that are properly balanced in legislation against the human rights of every citizen.

But in the end, when we think about the terrorist threat – including the threat of the violent identitarian extremist lone actor – the community must be involved in that as well. The purpose of this dialogue is not only to inform government and academia, it is to educate our whole population and get that discussion going, so we might all be thinking about those behaviours and attitudes and values that are destructive, hurtful, hateful and that can cause harm.

Then we will be equipped to respond as individuals, families, as communities, in our schools, in our workplaces, on the sport field and in our houses of worship. We can respond in a way that keeps ourselves and every citizen safe. If this two day event can support that and give us the courage as a nation to enter into that dialogue then this will have been two days well spent.

I’m confident that it is that, and that we will leave here tomorrow knowing we have started one of the most important strands of public discussion that this country has needed for a long, long time.

So thank you for being here, for your contributions, for those who are sitting on panels and those who are asking the panellists questions.

I think we all know that the mahi doesn’t stop here. It will continue through the coming year and I hope that when we come back for the second hui, and each year after that, we can look to the actions we have taken to build the pathway to safer and more healthy nation.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou katoa.