Simon Bridges: Important questions need to be asked about our security and intelligence agencies

Opinion 27/03/2019
Photo: Getty.

By Simon Bridges, National Party leader.

OPINION: On March 15th an unspeakable act of violence tore families apart and ripped through the hearts of all New Zealanders.

New Zealand has been grieving since that day. Grieving for those families who have lost loved ones, and grieving for the loss of our innocence.

But we’re now reaching a point where questions need to be answered. Could we have prevented the attack, and what can we do to ensure New Zealanders are kept safe?

The Government’s decision to hold a Royal Commission of Inquiry into our security and intelligence agencies, as well as into the Police, Customs and Immigration, is a good one.

A Royal Commission is our highest level of inquiry. Given 50 people lost their lives, it’s important we ensure the events that occurred on 15 March, and those leading up to it, be investigated independently and thoroughly.

The inquiry will need to ask hard questions about whether our security and intelligence agencies had their focus in the right places.

While holding an inquiry is appropriate, it must not be used as an excuse to ignore immediate concerns about our security and intelligence systems.

The reality is our security risk is now higher. I’m not saying that to alarm anyone but the Government needs to answer questions about whether our security and intelligence agencies have the capability to detect terrorist and extremist behaviour right now.

Simon Bridges. Photo: Getty.

It is important that New Zealanders are safe, and our security and intelligence agencies play a crucial role in ensuring our safety.

I have been clear that our cyber security systems and tools need to be enhanced if we want to keep up with other countries and terrorist organisations, and be serious about preventing further attacks.

In 2013 the Government of the day made the decision to abandon Project Speargun which would have scanned internet traffic coming into New Zealand and given an extended degree of protection to all New Zealanders. Similar systems are used in other countries.

We currently have CORTEX as part of our cyber-security systems, which is much narrower and is designed to protect organisations of national significance.

It’s never easy to balance the rights of privacy against security but where we draw the line must now be reconsidered.

We believe there should be action now into whether the capabilities of our security and intelligence services are fit for purpose.

Those carrying out these roles need to be able to tell us frankly whether they have the ability to protect New Zealanders at home and overseas as we expect them to.

An inquiry cannot be an excuse by the Government not to answer questions in the meantime. New Zealanders need to be safe and cannot wait for the completion of a Royal Commission of inquiry, which will likely take years.

We cannot allow another attack like March 15 occur because we didn’t do enough now. We need to get on with actions for the future.

Simon Bridges is the leader of the National Party.