At each hui between the Royal Commission and the Muslim Community Reference Group a number of questions will be asked and answered.  These questions may come from Reference Group members themselves, or perhaps from the wider community.  Those questions and answers will be published and updated here after each hui.


Was the Muslim communities’ involvement an afterthought? Why has there been secrecy around the invitations to participate in the Muslim Community Reference Group?

The Royal Commission values community involvement in its inquiry.

At the start of its work, it was agreed that a Muslim Community Reference Group would assist the Royal Commission in its inquiry. This was set out in Minute 1 issued in mid-May 2019.

The Royal Commission initially met with religious leaders in Christchurch and the Christchurch Muslim Liaison Group in May 2019, and the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand and Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand in June 2019.

It has taken some time to develop a set of criteria that the Royal Commission would use to select members of the Reference Group, and also undertake some research of possible members on the internet. Nominations were also received directly from people and organisations, with the last set of nominations received at the end of June 2019.
The Royal Commission made decisions on the criteria in early June 2019, and then decisions on possible members in three tranches – mid and late June and early July based on the criteria. Initial contact was made with possible members.

It was important to respect peoples’ decision making around joining the group, and their privacy during this time. We did this by giving all potential members the privacy to consider and decide whether to join the group. Each member was advised that it was the Royal Commission’s preference to be transparent and make public that if they agreed to become a member of the Reference Group that their name would be made public.

After the invitations went out, some invited members still wanted to know more before agreeing to continue, and some also had personal security concerns they wished to discuss further. Therefore we kept the details of the invited members confidential until after the first hui of the Reference Group as requested by some members. They have since been made public.

What criteria were used to select members of the Reference Group?

New Zealand’s ethnic communities are diverse. The Muslim community is made up of many communities from across the world. The Royal Commission considered that the Muslim Community Reference Group had to reflect this diversity.

The following criteria were applied when selecting members:

  • Gender with a desire to achieve a 50/50 ratio, if possible;
  • Ethnicity with a desire to ensure a diverse range of ethnicities are represented;
  • Age with a desire to ensure that the Reference Group includes a range of ages (including youth, adults and elders);
  • Religious diversity with a desire to ensure different religious perspectives are represented; and
  • Geographical location with a desire to ensure a geographical spread of Reference Group members, while acknowledging the attacks took place in Christchurch.

The Royal Commission also considered an individual’s potential to uniquely contribute to the inquiry, including the organisation(s) that the individual may represent, are involved with or have connections to.

What is the relationship between the Muslim Community Reference Group and the Royal Commission?

The Royal Commission has set up the Muslim Community Reference Group to help it build in appropriate and accessible opportunities for Muslim communities to take part in the inquiry.

The Reference Group is an advisory group to the Royal Commission. It has no decision-making powers.

The Reference Group also enables members to have a direct line to the Royal Commission and to discuss issues directly with the Commissioners and/or key officers of the Royal Commission. Members have the opportunity to take part directly in the inquiry process by:

  • sharing stories and experiences that can help inform the Royal Commission’s report;
  • helping the Royal Commission to identify questions to ask of the State agencies in our information and evidence gathering phase;
  • asking questions directly of the Royal Commission that your community wish to receive responses to about how we are operating and then acting as a conduit back to your communities with the answers that have been provided; and
  • offering throughout the inquiry process practical assistance or guidance to the Commissioners, Executive Director and wider secretariat, on any emerging issues relating to the engagement and communications activities.

Community perspectives are a vital part of the Royal Commission’s work.

What is the relationship between the Muslim Community Reference Group and the inquiry’s process?

The Inquiries Act 2013 sets out that a Royal Commission can decide its own procedures in a manner consistent with that Act and the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference. The Chair, Sir William Young, and Member, Jacqui Caine, determined the approach including the Royal Commission’s information and evidence gathering processes in a way that has to be consistent with the Inquiries Act and its Terms of Reference.

The Royal Commission is independent of Government. The Inquiries Act 2013 states that “In exercising its powers and duties and performing its duties under this Act, an inquiry and each of its members must act independently, impartially, and fairly”.

A Royal Commission can inquire into any issues it sees fit, to investigate issues consistent with the Inquiries Act and its Terms of Reference. A copy of the Terms of Reference can be found here.

The Reference Group plays an essential role in helping the Royal Commission connect with Muslim communities to make findings on:

  • what State sector agencies knew about the accused attacker, before 15 March 2019
  • what State sector agencies did (if anything) with that knowledge
  • whether there was anything else State sector agencies could have done to prevent the attack
  • what else State sector agencies should do to prevent such attacks in the future.

The Reference Group is not a steering group and does not have decision-making powers.

How will the Royal Commission be open and transparent?

The use of powers provided through the Inquiries Act 2013, is not taken lightly and we are mindful that the effective restrictions on transparency will be a frustration.

The Royal Commission has made interim, rather than permanent orders wherever possible, working on the assumption that after the report has been made public, evidence and information gathered will be made public unless it is subject to issues of privacy, confidentiality, natural justice or national security.

We are providing updates regularly and sharing information about who we are meeting with, to provide some insight into the Royal Commission’s work.
We appreciate this will not satisfy all interests, but we must manage the work of the Royal Commission with the utmost care to protect the integrity of the process.

Why did the Royal Commission contact and get involved with the State sector agencies earlier than getting in touch with the Muslim communities and the Muslim Community Reference Group? Do you want to hear from them more than the Muslim communities and the Muslim Community Reference Group? Why didn’t the Muslim Community Reference Group get the option to guide the Royal Commission early on?

The Royal Commission has been tasked with thoroughly investigating the issues, so that it can reassure the New Zealand public that all appropriate measures are being taken by relevant State sector agencies to ensure their safety and protection.

It was vital the Royal Commission started gathering information and evidence from government agencies at an early stage due to the processes involved and it made sense to form the Muslim Community Reference Group once a base level of understanding was achieved.

The Muslim Communities Reference Group is one way for the Royal Commission to engage with Muslim communities but not the only way.

The Royal Commission has also been engaging directly with a range of Muslim communities since May.

What approach is the Royal Commission taking to asking questions of agencies?

The Royal Commission is taking a varied approach to its inquiries with State agencies. This includes writing to the agency seeking information, meeting with Chief Executives and other officials, reviewing documentation received from the state agencies or other parties. The information and evidence phase will also involve a series of interviews with state sector agencies under oath.

Are the findings and recommendations predetermined?

No. Findings and recommendations are yet to be made.

Any findings and recommendations will be made once all the Royal Commission has completed its information and evidence phase, and analysed and carefully considered all of the material.

Can the Muslim Community Reference Group provide feedback on the answers that State agencies provide?

It is possible the Royal Commission may ask the Reference Group to give further information or clarity to information obtained through its enquiries with State agencies. However, the Reference Group will not review or feedback on all information provided by the State agencies as it is subject to national security, confidentiality, privacy and natural justice considerations.

If State sector agencies know that the Royal Commission is asking questions of them, will they destroy the evidence or lose the notes from when we met with them?

Deliberately impeding the Royal Commission’s inquiries is an offence under the Inquiries Act and will be dealt with accordingly.

If Reference Group members are aware of such activity, we urge you to bring this to our attention.

What support can organisations access to develop a credible written submission? What financial or legal support can organisations access to develop a credible submission?

Any organisation or individual wishing to seek legal or financial assistance to support their engagement in Royal Commission processes should discuss this with the Royal Commission team.

A letter will need to be written setting out the request for funding, including the reason(s) the funding is required, how much and what the key tasks and activities will be undertaken and how much time is required for each task/activity.

The Inquiries Act provides for the Royal Commission to make a recommendation to the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs on the contents of a legal assistance grant. The decision of the Chief Executive is final.

Hardship is a key factor that the Royal Commission must take into account in determining whether to recommend to the Chief Executive of Internal Affairs the grant be approved.

When will funding be available for legal support and Muslim community members’ time to prepare submissions?

Once a letter has been received with all of the relevant information, as set out in the response to question 12, the Royal Commission will look to carefully consider whether to make a recommendation to the Chief Executive of Internal Affairs under the Inquiries Act. We will keep you updated on progress of your application.

Criteria for selecting the Commissioners/executive /management/legal staff of the Royal Commission

a) Who made the decision to appoint the two Commissioners to the Royal Commission and what criteria did they apply?

A group of Ministers (Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General and the Minister of Internal Affairs) made the decisions on the appointment of the Commissioners. They were authorised by the ‘Cabinet of New Zealand’ to make the decisions. (Cabinet is the New Zealand Government’s body of senior Ministers of the Crown, responsible to the New Zealand Parliament. Cabinet meetings, chaired by the Prime Minister, occur once a week; in them, vital issues are discussed and government policy is developed).

The criteria the group of Ministers applied for the appointments included:

  • proven ability to lead complex, system-level reviews drawing on a wide range of perspectives;
  • knowledge of, or experience in, examining systems or processes affecting individuals;
  • knowledge of the machinery of government and government processes;
  • knowledge of legal systems and practices;
  • experience working in the public eye without being unduly influenced by public comment;
  • the ability to assess evidence dispassionately, but appropriately, with no predetermined view of the outcome;
  • a sound understanding of intelligence issues; and
  • significant governance experience.

You can find out more information about the establishment of the Royal Commission here(external link).

b) What criteria were used for selecting the Royal Commission staff?

All staff were interviewed for a role with the Royal Commission by the Executive Director, Benesia Smith, MNZM and in some instances 1 or more other individuals. All individuals that have been employed or seconded to the Royal Commission were assessed against a set of competencies for the particular role they have been employed or seconded to.

c) How will any real or perceived conflict of interest from secondees from State sector agencies working in the Royal Commission’s secretariat be managed?

The Royal Commission has developed an Association: Identification, Disclosure and Management Policy. It provides that the two Members of the Royal Commission and all officers of the Royal Commission must declare any actual, potential or perceived association in order to protect the integrity of the Royal Commission.

These associations are recorded for the purposes of transparency within the Royal Commission and any necessary management. To avoid doubt, just because someone involved in the Royal Commission has an association relevant to their Royal Commission work, it does not follow that they have any actual, potential, or perceived association. Some situations will not be clear-cut and will involve questions of degree. Therefore, the need to exercise careful judgement on a case-by-case basis is necessary.

An association arises when a Member or an officer has a personal association in an issue that could give rise to the appearance of bias in the work or decision-making of the Royal Commission. These fall under one of two categories:

  • a manageable association, which can be avoided or adequately mitigated and managed through an appropriate response (e.g. not participating in a particular activity or discussion, relinquishing membership of an organisation etc.).
  • an unmanageable association, which arises if the association is unavoidable and cannot be managed through an appropriate response, or the association affects so many of the Royal Commission’s activities that management mechanisms would not be practicable.

A register of such issues is kept by the Executive Director and reviewed regularly.

Why should the Muslim Community Reference Group focus on what questions to ask the State sector agencies when they will only fill in the gaps in the questions the Royal Commission already asked?

The Royal Commission’s inquisitorial approach means questions are asked of the State sector agencies, which then raise further questions to be asked and so on.

This means that we have multiple discussions with State sector agencies, and can revisit issues where we need more information.

If we receive new information or suggested lines of inquiry from the Reference Group, we will pursue those with agencies.

How can the Muslim Community Reference Group and the Royal Commission work together effectively when the Muslim Community Reference Group is already on the back foot of trust?

We are working hard to gain your trust and hope that, as our relationship develops, it will become easier to understand each other’s perspectives.

How can the Muslim Community Reference Group / Muslim communities support the work of the Royal Commission without jeopardising it?

You can support our work by keeping any confidential matters we share with you private.

We will keep confidential matters you share with us private.

Not all of our discussions at the Reference Group will need to remain private.

You can also support us by advising us, as best you can, on how we can ensure Muslim communities can take part in this inquiry.

We seek your support in keeping your communities informed of the discussions and seeking information from them that may assist our inquiry work.

We are also interested in hearing your views on what recommendations you consider the Royal Commission must make to the Government and why.

When the Royal Commission asks questions of the State sector agencies, what can it feedback to the Muslim Community Reference Group about the answers?

We would like to be upfront with you and not make commitments we can’t uphold.

In general terms we anticipate that the Royal Commission may be able to provide limited feedback on some answers provided by State sector agencies. This will be impacted by the privacy of our Inquiry, the fair trial rights of the accused, natural justice processes and the classified nature of some of the answers.

Do the Orders made by the Royal Commission affect a submitter’s ability to publicly release their own submission?

Only State sector agencies that are named in the Schedule to Minute 2 are prohibited from publishing their evidence or submissions to the Royal Commission.

This means that any person or non-government agency or organisation who makes a submission to the Royal Commission, as an individual or on behalf of an organisation, can release it publicly if they choose to.

How are you engaging with victims and families affected by the attacks?

We have invited families to meet with the Royal Commission in person, in a way that suits them, and families are taking up that offer. Those we have met with to date have asked that any meetings are in private and remain confidential.

We have been keenly aware of the need to consider those most deeply affected by the attacks, and have considered that the best way to respect their loss was to give them all the time and space they need, and to invite them to meet with us on their own terms in a way that suits them.

We welcome advice on the most sensitive and culturally appropriate way to engage with the victims' families.

Can material be translated into more languages?

Yes, we are able to translate material.

We have translated the Terms of Reference into five languages, which are available on the website and we have also translated some material into a couple of languages on request for families.

We welcome advice on what material would be useful to be translated, and into which languages.

How do you give every single voice an equal opportunity to be heard?

We will continue to use an independent facilitator, who will help us to work in small groups as well as the whole group. We are supplying meeting notes after each hui for feedback.

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