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Successive governments have come up woefully short in ensuring security

The Christchurch terrorist attack has brought to the surface a range of issues that have been quietly simmering away for decades in New Zealand. Many of these have been well signalled but they were avoided, ignored or simply denied.

Let us look at just one of these issues – security – on which successive New Zealand governments have badly let Kiwis down.

Why would a peaceful country long celebrated as the second safest in the world and one that has a most impressive anti-nuclear reputation need to have 1.5 million firearms – nearly 15,000 of them semi automatic weapons capable of mowing down people as they brutally did in Christchurch last week? Why is it so easy to order and possess these weapons? Why aren’t adequate checks in place? Why aren’t proper records kept?

Successive governments have let New Zealanders down by ignoring proposals to reform gun laws by a combination of absolute naivety and allowing to be manipulated by powerful interest lobbies, even when mass shootings like Aramoana have happened in the past.

It is inconceivable that governments didn’t see this coming in the face of increased attacks all over the world in recent years and being smug and complacent in the belief that we are too far away and things like that won’t ever happen here. Everyone in New Zealand’s security environment underestimated the combined destructive power of social media powered hate and the easy availability of firearms.

It’s a clear case of the famous Kiwi ‘she’ll be right’ attitude gone too far.

New Zealand governments seemed to live in La La land, even as Australia pulled up its socks a long while ago. Speaking to Radio New Zealand after the terrorist attack, former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, who worked hard on gun law reform in the John Howard government (in place just 12 days after the Port Arthur massacre), said it would have been impossible for any individual to acquire the type of firearms used in Christchurch anywhere in Australia.

New Zealand was fertile territory for an attack of this type especially by a person who looked too ‘main stream’ to be suspected of anything untoward – even if he wasn’t a New Zealand national.

It was always a question of when, not if. And that was answered most tragically on the afternoon of 15 March 2019.

It speaks volumes for the naivety of New Zealand’s government and the laxity of its security system that has almost completely ignored the fast-emerging security threat from white supremacists in several countries. In any case, not too many western governments have taken this threat seriously until recently. British agency MI5, for instance, has only recently set up a cell to monitor such groups. This is a serious wake up call for all.

It is deeply distressing that it took the wanton death of 50 innocent people at prayer for the government to announce reforms on gun laws – a thing which should have happened decades ago. A previous government accepted just seven of more than 20 recommendations that were made in the interests of the security of Kiwis. What might have guided these decisions?

Kiwi politicians of all hues and the country’s security establishment have a lot of soul searching to do.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender dated 22 March 2019.