This chapter sets out the themes from our meetings with individuals, academics, communities and interest groups, and the themes contained in written submissions. It draws on what we learned from our Muslim Community Reference Group about the broader context in which the terrorist attack occurred.
We heard from a range of people about their views of New Zealand and their personal experiences. Many people we met have moved to New Zealand from overseas, often in search of a better life. The length of time they have lived here ranges from a few months to decades. They shared their experiences of their lives in New Zealand and their interactions with Public sector agencies. They gave us their suggestions for what, in their view, needed to change to prevent such a terrorist attack in the future.
We predominantly heard from ethnic and religious communities, including Muslim communities, and there were consistent themes in what we heard, as set out below. For some people, their experiences changed after the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack.
4.2 New Zealand is viewed positively, but widespread racism, discrimination and Islamophobia exists
Many people said their experiences of New Zealand and New Zealanders before the terrorist attack of 15 March 2019 were positive. New Zealand felt peaceful and safe to them, and they never thought a terrorist attack could happen here. They felt that New Zealanders were very accepting and friendly people. We heard consistently that at the local level, most people are welcoming.
Despite these positive experiences, many of the same people that we heard from had personally suffered racist incidents or knew of whānau and friends who had. Women in hijab, for example, reported experiencing street harassment and felt uncomfortable reporting the incidents to New Zealand Police or other Public sector agencies. They felt their hurt and frustration would not be taken seriously by New Zealand Police or other agencies.
People said they had experienced discrimination at work, in trying to find a job, or said their children had been bullied at school. For example, we were told:
A [Muslim] tertiary student reported being warned she would not get a job if she turned up to an interview “dressed like that”. Secondary schools students reported experiencing a lot of discrimination and harassment. Some have had their scarves torn off and were punched, and ending up in fist fights as a result. Even teachers have challenged students about the actions of ISIS, and other terrorists.
Some people we heard from believed the root cause of the discrimination they experience is a combination of ignorance and racism. They felt that this racism can often be both at a personal and institutional level and subtly permeates parts of New Zealand society. The Muslim Community Reference Group shared these views.
We were also told that there are some general misunderstandings about Islam. Some people in Muslim communities believe they are subject to guilt by association with Islamist extremist terrorism. We heard of increased harassment and discrimination faced by some New Zealand Muslim individuals and communities when Islamist extremist terrorist attacks occurred overseas.
The lack of awareness in New Zealand about ethnic and religious communities is considered by many to be a barrier to embracing diversity. The Muslim Community Reference Group noted that in New Zealand, people learn about Muslim culture and beliefs primarily through the media.
Members of the Muslim Community Reference Group and some submissions also expressed concerns about the way that local and international media reporting has contributed to increased anti-Muslim views in New Zealand and around the world. They believe that this occurs through inaccurate reporting, and a general failure to challenge racist and extremist remarks. Many people we talked to or heard from shared this belief. Many people commented that biased reporting had increased significantly since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 in the United States of America. We were presented with research and statistics on the representation of Islam in New Zealand media to support this view.
We heard similar sentiments from many people that the way that New Zealand Public sector agencies and politicians talk about national security issues adds to anti-Muslim rhetoric. We heard that what people say really matters, particularly people in leadership positions. One person told us that:
We think too often about minorities – “they are us” – emphasising their difference even if that was not the intent. Language is critical.
We were told by some people that community relationships were limited and that hostile rhetoric was increasing, for instance about immigration, and that it felt like New Zealand’s social cohesiveness was diminishing.
We also heard that the challenges faced are not unique to Muslim communities. We heard from the Muslim Community Reference Group that “different ethnic groups need to be included in this, they are also targets of racism”. For example, some religious communities and Māori also told us about their experiences of racism, adversity and injustice.
In this vein, we were told that our recommendations should support a better and safer New Zealand not only for Muslim communities, but also for the range of communities that make up New Zealand. Our recommendations need to be “forward-looking and inclusive of all New Zealanders regardless of faith, ethnicity or culture”.
Since 15 March 2019, communities report that some people feel less safe, especially those who have visible faith markers. We heard from a few people who said they are worried about their whānau and friends who wear hijab. We heard from one group that:
We stopped feeling safe in New Zealand after the 15 March attacks – this event has shaken us, especially our women who tend to be the “flag bearers” as their dress is a visual demonstration of their faith.
Some women said they felt more scared going out on their own wearing hijab. They told us they avoided going to public places and doing things that used to be part of their daily routine, such as taking their children to school or going on an evening walk.
On the other hand, some people feel just as safe as before, or safer, and noted they are receiving support from non-Muslim New Zealanders. We heard of situations where once-distant neighbours were now regularly speaking with their Muslim neighbours and of women openly acknowledging and engaging with Muslim women on the street.
4.3 New Zealand law does not sufficiently protect people from hate-motivated crime and hate speech
Many told us the terrorist attack occurred in a context of widespread racism, discrimination and Islamophobia, where pre-judgements or hostile behaviours (including hate-based threats and attacks) are rarely recorded, analysed or acted on. We were also told that racism can come in many forms, from harsh comments to offensive actions. We heard that racism occurs frequently in public spaces, often comes from strangers and can escalate to violence.
There are many positive things New Zealanders can learn from one another in an increasingly diverse country, but we were told not everyone thinks that way. We were referred to a number of incidents of politicians making remarks that disparaged ethnic and religious communities. These incidents were seen as unacceptable, but at times common in New Zealand.
We heard from many people about their concerns that harmful behaviour towards people based on their national origin, religion, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation, which vary from verbal to physical in nature, are not taken sufficiently seriously by New Zealand Police.
A particular frustration we heard was that harmful behaviours and allegations of hate crimes are not recorded by New Zealand Police. We heard much about hate crimes and related issues more broadly, which are discussed further in other chapters of this Part. Some people we met with said they had reported racist incidents to New Zealand Police, but there was no outcome. This was either because the report was not formally recorded, New Zealand Police did not take the incident seriously or they did not hear back from New Zealand Police about what had been done in response to their report. One submission referred to a threat that was made in February 2019 to burn a Qur’an outside a masjid, coincidentally on 15 March 2019 (see Part 6, chapter 2). The submitters felt that New Zealand Police had not taken this threat sufficiently seriously, and that it took some time for New Zealand Police to report back to them about any action undertaken.
We heard from our Muslim Community Reference Group that:
… there is a lack of trust that police will act on reports or claims. People eventually choose not to report their issues or experiences because they feel nothing will be done.
This was a common sentiment that we heard from a range of communities. However, we did hear from a few people of a perceived change in attitude from New Zealand Police since 15 March 2019. They said they had reported hate-motivated incidents since 15 March 2019 and felt these had been taken seriously. On the other hand, some people indicated to us they still had concerns about New Zealand Police responses to hate-motivated incidents, and that the New Zealand Police practice for responding was not consistent across the country.
For migrants in particular, we were told that there are often additional elements that can add to a reluctance to report racist or hateful incidents to New Zealand Police. We heard of some migrants feeling “lucky” or “grateful” to be in New Zealand, and not wanting to complain as this might impact them being able to stay in the country or risk them being seen as a “trouble-maker”. Some migrants said that their perception of New Zealand Police or other authorities is sometimes influenced by their experiences in the countries they have come from, and that such experiences can discourage speaking up or reporting.
Some people said they had noticed an increasing number of racist incidents in a range of settings, and more racist comments on social media since 15 March 2019.
A few people told us that the way New Zealand handles hate speech is important, given its freedom of speech rights. They believe that further restricting and criminalising hate speech would be misconceived, as it is likely to drive hate speech underground where it cannot be challenged and, in this way, contribute to more radicalisation. However other people held contrary views, believing that hate crimes should be established as a separate category of offence and that they should include acts of hatred that target people and property. We heard that:
[There is] a clear line between the freedom to openly and publicly discuss, defend, and teach different positions on moral and social issues and theological matters, and professing hatred and inciting violence. While the former are necessary for the maintenance and progress of a free and democratic society, the latter are destructive for a free and democratic society.
Nearly everyone we met with believed that confronting racism and prejudice would make New Zealand safer and contribute to preventing a terrorist attack in the future. They said that the key to eliminating racism lies in education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and that all New Zealanders need the tools to identify racism and prejudice and how to respond in a safe and calm manner.
4.4 Solutions proposed to address racism, discrimination, hate crime and hate speech
Our Muslim Community Reference Group made it clear to us that efforts must be undertaken by Public sector agencies, local government and the private sector to eliminate racism and discrimination, including:
- equipping the education system to implement programmes about the diverse nature of New Zealand’s communities;
- supporting communities and workplaces to reduce discrimination through programmes and resources to support knowledge about cultural, linguistic, national origin and other forms of diversity;
- promoting and celebrating diversity, including through public celebrations for key religious and cultural events; and
- publicly sharing positive stories about ethnic and religious communities.
We heard that eliminating racism and discrimination should be a priority across all sectors, not just the Public sector, and action needs to be focused on all ages and communities of interest. We were told by some members of the Muslim Community Reference Group, and others we met with, that initiatives cannot be one-off – cultural competency needs to be part of continuing professional development and valued by both Public sector and private sector employers.
We heard that Māori history, insights and experiences and a Māori worldview, would be invaluable in learning more about New Zealand, and that this and education about Te Tiriti o Waitangi should be incorporated in the implementation of anti-racism and discrimination programmes and initiatives.
While the Public sector must drive efforts to eliminate racism and discrimination, members of the Muslim Community Reference Group emphasised the importance of encouraging, supporting and empowering communities to work together on these issues. These sentiments were echoed by others we heard from.
Many people believe Public sector agencies should collect data to understand the extent of racism and discrimination and have the evidence base to design effective policy responses. Some suggestions were also made about legislative change to broaden the scope of hate speech offences, noting the delicate balance between peoples’ safety and freedom of expression.
We were told that a system needs to be developed for reporting, collating and analysing complaints of hate speech and hate crimes. Others suggested a national hate crime action plan, with a whole-of-government approach to dealing with anti-social and unacceptable behaviours and preventing extremism, including the development of de-radicalisation programmes.
One group called for regularly including Islam and Muslim communities in official and popular rhetoric. They told us:
[This would involve] media in New Zealand making a conscious effort to normalise Muslim representations on screen, and to take a critical, rational and ethical approach to priming and framing stories involving Islam, Muslims and Muslim-majority countries and regions.
To counter the media being the primary source of education about Islam and other religions, we were told that education about diversity needs to be provided by educational institutes, places of worship (including churches and temples) and direct personal engagement with Muslim communities.
We were also told that the Public sector needed to put more resources into campaigns like Stand up to racism: That’s us, which is run by the Human Rights Commission.
4.5 Experiences with the Public sector
We heard that the terrorist attack took place in the context of a society, including Public sector agencies, which frequently misunderstands Muslim communities and cultural diversity more broadly, and in which many Muslim New Zealanders feel they face prejudice and discrimination.
Many people, community organisations and groups told us that Public sector agencies do not effectively explain to people how the information they provide will be used or shared. For example, people told us they had attended meetings with Public sector agencies to discuss community programmes, or to raise concerns about Public sector agency-led programmes. Afterwards, Public sector agencies often did not share notes of those meetings to ask whether they accurately reflected the discussion, nor did they confirm any agreed actions arising from the meetings or get back in touch to let attendees know what the outcome was.
Some people spoke of being asked repeatedly for the same information from the same Public sector agencies, which further eroded their trust and confidence in the agencies.
One group told us about their experiences trying to get issues specific to Muslim communities noticed by the Public sector, and of working with Public sector agencies on a potential national strategy to deal with issues raised by Muslim communities. They told us of their frustration at feeling they needed to constantly drive this work rather than supporting the Public sector agencies, that their voice was not being heard and that the work did not appear to go anywhere with little explanation as to why. The group talked about how they volunteered significant time and energy to support Public sector agencies to deliver, and felt let down by the agencies’ limited efforts.
4.6 New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort
We heard from communities that they understand and generally support the objectives of the national security system. However, some people told us they believe the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack demonstrated a “catastrophic failure” of the national security system. We were told by a submitter with experience in the national security system that:
The assumptions that underpin these reflections are that there was systemic failure of the national security system – by definition a major terrorist attack resulting in the death of 51 people cannot be anything other than a failure. I am assuming the relevant agencies were taken by complete surprise, and there is not a single point of failure (e.g. a human error) that had a different course of action been taken would have prevented or disrupted the attack. My assumption is that the system was not looking and never had a chance to prevent the attack – hence the systemic failure.
We also heard from some that the national security system had failed to prevent the terrorist attack as it was only focused on a perceived threat of Muslim individuals and communities while not focusing on any other threats. For example, one person told us:
They were watching us, not watching our backs.
We heard that communities feel that they have limited visibility about what Public sector agencies are doing to keep them safe. Some communities reported to us that their engagement with agencies involved in New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort feels one-sided – in that communities provide information to agencies, but it had not obviously been recorded in meetings, they do not receive a response about how that information is used and/or they do not see their advice being acted upon. Consequently, these people feel their advice is not being listened to or is not valued.
We heard from communities that they feel the New Zealand counter-terrorism effort has been focused exclusively on Islamist extremist terrorism, and that this is not unique to New Zealand. One submission referred to the 2015 Review of Australia’s Counter‑Terrorism Machinery, which assessed the threat environment exclusively in terms of Islamist extremist terrorism and explicitly linked violent extremism to Muslim individuals and communities.
For many of those that we heard from, a terrorist attack inspired by Islamophobia was not unforeseen. We heard that:
The events of the day were presaged by so many tell-tell signs of its coming, all of which were evident and all of which were ignored by those who had power to act.
Members of our Muslim Community Reference Group told us:
We warned them of dangers, and they didn’t listen.
We also heard from some people more broadly about their frustration that concerns they raised about the rise of right-wing extremism and Islamophobia in recent years were not acted on. Of the people we heard from who expressed a view about the activities of Public sector agencies, many were of the view that counter-terrorism agencies had failed to monitor the online posts of the individual and other people or groups with extreme right-wing views and they felt this failure allowed the attack on 15 March 2019 to occur. One submitter told us:
It is inconceivable that New Zealand’s professional internet community was aware of the threat posed by alt-right radicals but [the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service] were not.
We heard similar sentiments from some members of the Muslim Community Reference Group who had reported concerns about racism, discrimination and hate crimes to Public sector agencies including New Zealand Police, but they felt that their concerns were often not taken seriously or followed up. They told us that “we actually need to see evidence of [Public sector] agencies acting on our concerns in order for us to trust them”. In their view, counter-terrorism agencies are not identifying extremists (particularly right-wing extremists or white supremacists) due to preconceptions and bias about who poses a threat to New Zealand. In particular, we were told about the vulnerability of young men to sophisticated recruitment strategies from extreme right-wing groups and a belief that New Zealand’s counter-terrorism agencies are not picking up harmful extremists.
We were told that “even now, we are still being engaged with like we are the threat”. The Muslim Community Reference Group expressed that many of these issues stem from the fact that counter-terrorism agencies appear to have limited competency when it comes to Muslim culture.
Many people and community organisations we spoke to or heard from believe there is low capability and capacity, if any, in relation to countering violent extremism (including from the extreme right-wing) in Public sector agencies involved in New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort.
Some submissions and people we talked to noted that while Public sector agencies might agree that intelligence resulting from diverse sources and collective efforts enhances outcomes, many believe that the agencies’ understanding of how to achieve these outcomes was limited. This meant these agencies could be taken by surprise by something that a diverse team might have known about and would have identified as an opportunity or a risk.
We heard of the need for a counter-narrative to harmful extremism – or in other words, positive, alternative messaging. One submitter told us:
Too often the government or community are silent on their messaging. That causes confusion and doubt. There needs to be strong messaging around the condemnation of any violent acts for whatever purpose and readily available information on supporting communities in identifying and dealing with disaffected members who are engaging in or have engaged in violent extremism.
Many discussed the need for a strategy to prevent or counter extremism, believing that New Zealand had not taken sufficient action on this issue, despite governments in other countries doing so.
Some members of our Muslim Community Reference Group said they believe that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s activities and surveillance has often had a negative impact on their communities because it creates paranoia, suspicion and fear. Similarly, some Muslim communities believe the national security system is prejudiced against them, and they feel targeted. We were told “it is no secret that prior to these attacks, the Muslim community was under the microscope for being a potential threat to national security”. We also heard from non-Muslim communities who reported feeling targeted by the intelligence and security agencies.
We were told about negative personal experiences with the national security system, such as recruitment approaches, with people being asked to provide information about Muslim friends and whānau to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. Some expressed to us that they were concerned about what would happen to them personally if they did not comply with requests for information. They were worried that, if they questioned the process, they might get in trouble with the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and other Public sector agencies.
We heard stories from people who had been approached by counter-terrorism agencies but were unclear which agency they were from, or what the purpose of the engagement was. Some felt uncomfortable about the way in which they were approached and/or questioned by the counter-terrorism agencies.
We also heard of a perceived power imbalance between counter-terrorism agencies and communities, and that people who are approached by these agencies are often unsure what their rights are. We heard that when approached, individuals and communities do not feel empowered or knowledgeable enough to effectively engage with counter-terrorism agencies and challenge them.
Many people shared with us their personal experiences when entering and exiting New Zealand and their interactions with the border agencies – Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service.
We heard, particularly from ethnic and religious communities, including Muslim communities, of a belief that front-line staff from Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service undertake racial profiling. Some of the experiences people shared with us included a perception that Muslim individuals entering New Zealand, including those born in New Zealand and/or travelling on a New Zealand passport, face a longer screening process than non-Muslim travellers. This was echoed by some members of the Muslim Community Reference Group, with comments such as:
… we are targeted [by Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service]. This bias could perhaps allow other potential threats to slip through security.
We heard of personal experiences or those of friends and whānau. For example:
A few years ago my son travelled overseas for business …. When he came back he was interrogated for a couple of hours. His laptop was looked at as well his phone and he wasn’t sure why. The next time he travelled the same thing happened and he was very frustrated and started asking why? He travelled often to bring business to New Zealand. He had a New Zealand passport, so we do not understand the need for him to be screened at New Zealand’s border each time he returned from travel? He was bluntly told in the end that they wanted to make sure he is not affiliated with ISIS!
4.7 Solutions proposed to improve New Zealand’s counter-terrorism efforts
Communities provided a range of suggestions for improving New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort.
Some people felt that New Zealand Police and the intelligence and security agencies should be more proactive in identifying and assessing possible terrorist threats from ideologies other than Islamist extremism. Specifically, they suggested that these agencies should increase monitoring of anti-Muslim, extreme right-wing and other threats to vulnerable communities on social media. They suggested that online threats should be taken more seriously and investigated to determine the terrorism threat to New Zealanders.
We heard that the way New Zealand’s National Security and Intelligence Priorities are set needs to change (see Part 8, chapter 3). People told us that the process for setting and reviewing New Zealand’s National Security and Intelligence Priorities should be opened up to a Parliamentary and/or community process. This would help ensure that the National Security and Intelligence Priorities are robustly debated, and enable a directed conversation amongst New Zealanders on risks and threats to security and prosperity.
We were told that the government must publicly set out its strategy for preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism and there should be significant community involvement in its development. One submitter noted that while most countries have a comprehensive national security strategy, New Zealand continues to rely on a National Security System Handbook that mostly addresses the Response to crises rather than Reduction, Readiness and Recovery activities.
Some people suggested more training for staff in New Zealand Police and the intelligence and security agencies to enable diversity of thinking to protect against groupthink and thus recognise escalating threats sooner.
It was proposed that New Zealand should allocate counter-terrorism resources based on empirical evidence and coordinate with international partner agencies. The Australia New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee's work on counter-terrorism policy, capabilities, legislation and the enabling environments of all forms of extremism was identified as a useful vehicle.
There was also a call for both prevention programmes and de-radicalisation programmes for members of extremist movements, radical groups and some gangs to be funded by the government and developed and delivered in partnership with relevant communities and experts.
4.8 The firearms licensing system
Various communities and groups, including some members of the Muslim Community Reference Group, questioned why the Government was amending the Arms Act 1983 before the Royal Commission presented its findings. What we heard about this is discussed below in chapter 5.
Many people we heard from questioned how the individual was able to obtain a firearms licence, and there was a general feeling that there is room for improvement in the current checks and balances in place for firearms licence holders and owners. People familiar with the firearms licence application process had very strong views about the lack of robustness of the decision to grant the individual a firearms licence, believing that had vetting been correctly applied, the individual would not have been able to obtain a firearms licence. This view was largely based on factors that these people believed to be true, including:
- the individual’s travel to North Korea and the Turkish border with Syria (and his travel patterns more generally);
- that the individual’s firearms licence referees did not know him personally; and
- that none of the individual’s family members were included in background checks undertaken by New Zealand Police during the licensing process.
Most of what we were told about firearms and firearms licensing in our community engagement processes came through our submissions process. Approximately three quarters of the submissions we received used a template that referred to the individual’s firearms licence application and whether he would have fulfilled the requirements of the fit and proper person test in the firearms licence applications process. While these particular submissions used this template, most included unique content on firearms licensing.
One group submission noted other factors that they considered to be relevant (and believed to be true) and therefore should have come to light in the interview of the individual during the licensing process, for example, that:
- he had just arrived in New Zealand;
- he did not have any friends or relatives in Dunedin (or anywhere in New Zealand); and
- there was no indication he wanted the firearms for recreational purposes, as he joined a rifle club in February 2018, some six months after his arrival in New Zealand.
The group who made this submission considered that factors such as these should have raised concerns about why the individual wanted to own firearms.
Many people told us of things that they believed to be true about the individual’s referees used in his firearms licence application, including that:
- his referees did not meet New Zealand Police’s requirements;
- his two referees were related to each other and were therefore inappropriate referees; and
- his referees only knew the individual through an online forum, and had never met him in person.
Some of these submissions about firearms licensing also discussed New Zealand Police’s administration of the process and outlined the relationship between New Zealand Police and the licensed firearms community.
We heard that licensed firearms owners in New Zealand come from a range of different backgrounds. They have varied interests and reasons for owning firearms, with some having had a lifelong interest in firearms and some having only obtained their licences relatively recently.
Firearms owners suggested that if the firearms vetting process had been stringently applied, the individual would not have been able to obtain a firearms licence.
Many people shared their own experience of the firearms licensing process, particularly the New Zealand Police vetting process, comparing it to the vetting process they expected would have been applied to the individual. Many of these people felt, in their experience, that the vetting officer was invested in taking the time to do a thorough job and that the process was not just a “box-ticking exercise”.
We also heard from a few people who thought that the firearms licensing process should be stricter, with some outlining their own experiences. One submitter observed people taking the test answering incorrectly and being encouraged to select a different answer. Another submitter felt that their vetting interview should have been more in-depth and “probing” than it was, believing their application form was almost “rubber stamped”.
People who told us about how the licensing process had changed (either in their experience or according to what they had heard from others) considered that the process had become less rigorous and thorough following changes to the administration of the firearms licensing system. For example, one submission from a licensed firearms owner reflected on the changes that occurred between the time they applied for their licence or acted as a referee and the renewal process they recently went through:
I initially applied for my licence at the end of 2009 and the application and interview process was quite an ordeal. The arms officer carrying out the interviews asked many questions and framed in different ways. … A month ago I went through the renewal process and it was significantly different, my reference was interviewed over the phone and the questions for myself and next of kin didn’t allow for follow up questions for the arms officer to ask.
Many submitters discussed the relationship between licensed firearms owners and New Zealand Police. Licensed firearms owners historically viewed the relationship with New Zealand Police positively but they felt it had deteriorated over time, and that it was no longer seen as a valuable relationship by New Zealand Police. For example, a firearms organisation expressed to us that “increasingly firearms user groups, rather than being seen as allies in the safe use of firearms, were instead treated as nuisances and their input and advice not sought nor listened to”.
We were asked a number of questions about the firearms licensing process, which are answered to the extent possible in Part 5: The firearms licence.
4.9 Solutions proposed to manage firearms and firearms licensing
Where people suggested changes relating to firearms and firearms licensing, they were generally calling for strengthened processes and practices, as set out below.
Many firearms owners called for more robust and consistent implementation of the firearms licensing process, possibly through establishing an independent authority. We were also told the firearms licensing vetting process should be strengthened through a threshold for the fit and proper person test. This should include psychometric assessment for extremist and racist beliefs, looking for signs of right-wing extremism or other extremist behaviour and an assessment of activity on social media. We were told the vetting process could also be further strengthened by replacing casual vetting staff with sworn New Zealand Police officers who had specialist training in psychological assessments (to apply the fit and proper test). People also suggested centralising and standardising processes across Districts and a periodic review of Districts.
Other submitters wanted a review of all current licences issued in the last five years to ensure that correct process has been followed. Some felt the licences of individuals who come to the attention of New Zealand Police for racist beliefs and signs of extreme right-wing views, including on social media, should be revoked.
Other suggestions included:
- Automatic investigation of large, unusual, or frequent purchase orders.
- Scrutinising purchases by licence holders who have held firearms licences for less than one year.
- A review of large, unusual or frequent purchase orders in the last five years.
- Strengthening the regulatory regime for rifle clubs and ranges, including placing obligations on operators to report suspicious behaviour to New Zealand Police.
4.10 The role of Public sector agencies in promoting and embracing diversity
We heard that there is a widespread perception that some Public sector agencies’ understanding of New Zealand’s increasingly diverse population is at best superficial. Our Muslim Community Reference Group told us that diversity as a concept in the Public sector appears to be “only understood through a Pākehā lens” and that “as long as New Zealand sees ourselves as a predominantly ‘white’ / European society, we cannot embrace our diversity properly”. We were told that ethnic and religious communities (and especially Muslim communities) were often “othered” in the media and by Public sector agencies and by politicians perpetuating the idea of ethnic and religious communities belonging to a “different and separate” community at odds with national and global communities.
We were told about examples of unconscious bias, racism and prejudice against different cultures and ethnicities by Public sector agencies or employees, and the need for the Public sector to take active steps to ensure their workplaces are truly inclusive and free from racism and discrimination. A liberal democracy is one that values diversity, but we were often told that this was not reflected by the New Zealand Public sector in its employment practices, policy advice and service delivery.
Some people feel there are not enough Māori, Pasifika and people from ethnic and religious communities in Public sector agencies, especially at the chief executive level and second and third management tiers. We heard that Public sector engagement and diversity efforts often feel tokenistic and that:
It’s a great look for people to have a person of colour in the team. They get wheeled out for events.
We heard that Public sector agencies need to be more reflective of the diversity of New Zealand’s population. This includes becoming more culturally competent and multilingual, so that the Public sector can provide policies, programmes and services to the communities it serves in an effective and respectful way. We were told this will work better if Public sector agencies take a collaborative approach to partner and co-design initiatives with communities.
Many people commented that changes in New Zealand’s demographics, education system, migration flows and expectations about equality of opportunity are all impacting on working opportunities, and these changes will continue over the next 20 years. They told us that now more than ever the future success of New Zealand will depend on the ability of employers, especially Public sector agencies, to optimise a diverse talent pool and take swift action to enable this to occur.
Many people also discussed the perceived lack of a government strategy or ownership (through the existence of a dedicated agency, for example) to promote social cohesion and social inclusion.
We heard that no Public sector agency was leading a public discussion on what social cohesion or social inclusion means for New Zealand now and into the future. We were told it was important that New Zealanders understand what social cohesion means for democracy and what everyone can do to embrace ethnic and religious communities and promote social cohesion.
We were also told that “we measure what we value”. As New Zealand does not have any measures in place for social inclusion, social cohesion and diversity in the Public sector, this suggests that Public sector agencies currently see no value in these things. As a result we do not know our shortcomings and what activities might contribute to improving social inclusion and social cohesion in New Zealand.
We heard from some people that the Office of Ethnic Communities should be a stand-alone government department to sit alongside Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. The new government department would provide advice to ministers and Public sector agencies on all government policies and programmes with insights from ethnic and religious communities, and deliver key programmes. We were told that the current role of the Office of Ethnic Communities and its placement in the Department of Internal Affairs demonstrated it was not held in high regard by ministers, Public sector agencies or New Zealanders. We also heard that the Office of Ethnic Communities was ineffective within the Public sector and in working with communities. We were told that religious communities did not receive support from the Office.
We heard community frustration about the recent significant funding increase that Government provided to the Office of Ethnic Communities and not direct to communities themselves to assist them to deliver their own solutions. Some people felt that the Office of Ethnic Communities was an agency that had previously failed them and, in its rush to upskill, did not employ good recruitment practices.
Many people asked questions relating to New Zealand’s increasingly diverse demographics and countering harmful behaviour. Our views on these matters can be found in Part 9: Social cohesion and embracing diveristy.
4.11 Solutions proposed to improve how Public sector agencies respond to New Zealand’s increasing diversity
Our Muslim Community Reference Group and some submitters considered Public sector agencies must embrace diversity by:
- increasing recruitment from ethnic and religious communities, including for leadership positions;
- improving employment opportunities in the Public sector across New Zealand, including moving the Public sector from being primarily based in Wellington;
- valuing life experience alongside formal education when making recruitment decisions; and
- supporting staff who have skills and experience in working with ethnic and religious communities, and upskilling and providing training to further increase opportunities for people.
Our Muslim Community Reference Group wanted to highlight that this is an attitude-based solution – it must not be seen as a box-ticking exercise, as has been the case in the past. They told us that government needs to recognise the value that diversity contributes to society, workplaces and communities in general.
We were also told of the importance of diversity at all levels within Public sector agencies, including at the decision-making table. We heard that a critical part of implementing this solution will involve recognising what perspectives or life experiences are missing from consideration. A lack of diverse perspectives in policy setting and programme decisions affecting all New Zealanders means those decisions may be ineffectual or unintentionally cause harm.
4.12 Public sector agency engagement with communities
We received many comments on community engagement. We were advised there is no commonly agreed definition of “community engagement” and the term is often used interchangeably with a number of other concepts, such as consultation, participation, consideration and empowerment. We were told that Public sector agencies do not understand nor put into operation effective community engagement. Our Muslim Community Reference Group saw the relationship between communities and Public sector agencies as critical to effective governance, policy development and delivery of services. We heard from many people that community engagement by Public sector agencies is often tokenistic. They feel that decisions are made and the community is informed of the decision rather than being provided an opportunity to help identify issues and collaborate on developing solutions. We heard that Public sector engagement with communities is often characterised by not clearly defining the purpose of the engagement and that it is often not clear who is being engaged and why.
We heard that insufficient diversity and cultural competency in Public sector agencies means that when they engage with communities, agency staff and community members can draw different conclusions about the outcomes. For example, a community member who raises concerns about threatening behaviour may not provide all relevant information or context. This is because they have assumed that the agency is aware of such information or context, an assumption that may be incorrect.
We also heard that communities are often expected to volunteer their knowledge or take a day of leave from their employment to contribute to a Public sector agency engagement process. Many people consider that Public sector agencies need to sustainably resource communities to be involved in Public sector agency processes, and that there is some way to go in developing effective engagement practices with communities.
Our Muslim Community Reference Group told us that:
Departments often take community silence as acceptance! Offer engagement pathways that work not just for the organisation but also for the community.
We also heard that when there is engagement, the relevant Public sector agency will often choose to “cherry-pick” and engage with a small group of people, sometimes on an ad hoc basis. Often this is from a few specific organisations or national organisations that may be perceived as representing the broader community of interest. We were told that engagement must be broad and inclusive, and not just with national organisations. Our Muslim Community Reference Group emphasised that engagement must not be tokenistic and must account for the diverse nature of Muslim communities.
We were told by many that Public sector agencies risk not getting a representative view by repeatedly returning to the same representatives to draw on their insights and knowledge. In addition, this places a burden on already stretched and sometimes overstretched community leaders and may also marginalise parts of communities that are not involved in the engagement process.
We were told by many people that the government needed to resource, support and facilitate community-driven initiatives, rather than Public sector agencies imposing initiatives on communities. We also heard that Public sector agencies were sending unskilled employees to engage with communities on issues of importance. Under the guise of engagement, Public sector agencies were requiring busy community leaders and members to upskill Public sector employees who have no background and expertise working with Muslim communities and to do so without recompense.
4.13 Solutions proposed to improve how Public sector agencies engage with communities
In order to better represent the changing demographics of New Zealand, our Muslim Community Reference Group told us that Public sector agencies must improve how they engage with ethnic and religious communities about their safety and security needs.
Improvements could include:
- meaningfully and respectfully engaging with a broad variety of people (including for example, women, youth, people with a range of national origins) and groups, rather than just one body or group;
- engaging with communities on their terms, and putting measures in place to ensure that communities understand the results of that engagement;
- increasing Public sector agencies’ resources so that they liaise more effectively with ethnic and religious communities;
- resourcing communities to enable them to effectively and efficiently engage with Public sector agencies;
- listening to communities’ needs and concerns about their safety and security with an open mind;
- empowering communities, including through providing advice and information, to make their own communities safer; and
- clearly reporting on engagement outcomes with communities regarding safety and security concerns.
We heard that Public sector agencies need to respect the expertise of communities rather than dismiss it. This includes recognising their expertise and compensating them for their time and expenses. Public sector agencies also need to ensure they do not place a burden on vulnerable communities by having to solve problems arising from exclusion and marginalisation. This means that Public sector agencies should not overburden those within the community they approach for advice nor expect vulnerable communities to be responsible for reducing the discrimination against them.
4.14 Questions asked about what Public sector agencies knew about the individual
Many people asked us questions relating to the individual. Often these were expressed in relation to what Public sector agencies knew about him, and a general disbelief that he had not come to the attention of any relevant Public sector agency before the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack.
No one that we heard from through our community engagement processes, including in submissions, said they personally knew the individual who carried out the terrorist attack.
We were asked that the individual not be named, and that the terrorist attack only be referred to in terms of the 51 shuhada, to ensure the individual received no publicity or attention. The Muslim Community Reference Group noted the importance of ensuring that when the individual is referenced in our report, it is as “the ‘subject of interrogation’ rather than giving him light and space”.
We were also asked by some to dismiss the individual’s reasoning and background, and not publicly share this information.
Despite this, many people shared their views on the individual, in particular how he could have obtained a firearms licence. We also heard a number of rumours about the individual’s activities. We have set these out as we heard them in this chapter, and in Part 4: The terrorist we provide an accurate account of the individual’s activities. What we heard about the individual’s firearms licensing process is discussed in more detail in Part 5: The firearms licence.
Many people questioned why the individual had not previously come to the attention of New Zealand and Australian agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort. A few people raised a more specific question – why the individual was not identified by these agencies as a person of interest, given the fact that he had visited countries with travel advisory warnings. Many people questioned why he was not checked more thoroughly by Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service on entering New Zealand.
People were uncertain about what information about the individual was known to Public sector agencies before 15 March 2019. Further, people questioned whether, if such information existed, it would have been taken into account by relevant Public sector agencies to scrutinise the individual’s entry into New Zealand or subsequent firearms licence application. Many people we met with or heard from felt that if the individual had not been of European descent, he would have come under much closer scrutiny by agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort and the public.
A few people queried whether there had been adequate information sharing between Australia and New Zealand when the individual entered New Zealand. For example, one submitter told us that:
A fundamental point in the attack of 15 March is that the [individual] was an Australian citizen. As such, he was able to travel to and work in New Zealand freely.
We heard from some people, including some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, that they thought the individual must have had support to carry out the terrorist attack and do not consider he was a lone actor. They believe this was either through direct support (that more than one person was involved in the terrorist attack) or indirect support (such as through online communities). We also heard from members of Muslim communities that they thought the individual visited Masjid an-Nur, the Linwood Islamic Centre and masajid around the country before the terrorist attack. Many people we heard from could not comprehend how the individual was able to carry out the extent of activities that he did without being detected either by agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort or by New Zealanders observing his behaviours.
People we heard from thought that if Public sector agencies had monitored social media this may have alerted them to the potential threat and did not understand why the individual’s social media was not monitored.
The people who spoke to us about the individual had specific questions they want answered by our report, including:
- Did he have direct or indirect support to carry out the terrorist attack?
- How could he afford to buy all the weapons and equipment needed to carry out the terrorist attack?
- How did he accumulate so much ammunition without drawing the attention of the counter-terrorism agencies?
- Given the fact he had visited countries with travel advisory warnings, why was he not checked more thoroughly by Immigration New Zealand on entering New Zealand? and
- How did he know the “perfect time” to enter Masjid an-Nur?
These and other questions raised by communities about the individual and what Public sector agencies knew about him are answered to the extent possible in our report in Part 4: The terrorist, Part 5: The firearms licence and Part 6: What Public sector agencies knew about the terrorist.