Saturday, 28 November 2020

Withholding evidence an alarming development

“It is disturbing to learn that evidence from senior public servants to the Royal Commission into the Christchurch mosque attacks will be withheld in full,” says ACT Justice and Firearms Law Reform spokesperson Nicole McKee.

“Firstly, this was not the impression given in statements from the Commission in recent days, which noted that only some information would be withheld to protect national security.

“While the Commission said a small number of senior Ministers past and present and senior public servants would not be at liberty to discuss their interviews because of confidentiality orders, it is surprising to learn that this stretches to complete suppression of their evidence.

“In fact, much was made of the Commission’s statement that the report had been written in a way that it could ‘be made available to the public, in full, without the need for redaction.’

“We now learn, after the report has been handed to the Government, that all evidence provided by Ministers and senior public servants will be suppressed for 30 years.

“ACT believes all evidence other than that which might prejudice national security, or which could risk the safety of individuals involved in processes that arguably led to the foreign terrorist being able to undertake his attacks, should be made public.

“That is the standard of disclosure expected under the Official Information Act and the public should receive nothing less in this case.

“For full transparency an explanation of the reasoning behind the decision is deserved, especially as so much is being withheld when it appears that the advice suggested otherwise.

“Just because the Inquiries Act allows the Government to do this doesn’t mean it should.

“The enormity of the events of 15 March 2019 and the need for the public to have trust in our institutions so that a similar violent act will never be repeated, is a valid case for the very highest levels of transparency.

“ACT is concerned questions will now linger over whether lessons will be properly learned because pertinent information is being withheld.

“New Zealand lived this terror and are living its consequences as a country. We are all awaiting the inquiry’s findings.”