Jacinda Ardern says New Zealanders need to know more, and will know more, about threats to national security to feel safer in a deteriorating geopolitical environment.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister attended New Zealand’s annual anti-terrorism hui (meeting), convened following the royal commission on the attack on Christchurch mosques.
The 2019 attack – carried out and streamed by Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant – was the worst modern mass shooting in the country, with 51 faithful killed and dozens injured.
Speaking today, Chief Security Officer Rebecca Kitteridge said New Zealand has had to contend with a rapidly changing security landscape, with the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) abruptly addressing “anti-authority” concerns.
New Zealand’s leading spy agency now devotes a third of its counterterrorism efforts to “violent anti-authority extremism” that targets high-profile political figures.
“The sudden rise in violent extremism against the authorities illustrates a worrying development,” Kitteridge said.
“Today’s extremists are likely to go online to explore a range of ideologies, groups and beliefs. They basically choose from an assortment of extremist views that can resonate ”.
At hui last year, Ms. Kitteridge said the main security threat came from “identity-driven” actors, particularly white supremacists like Tarrant.
The changing priorities of the SIS follow heavy criticism of the agency following the royal commission, which said the agency had an “inappropriate” focus on Islamic extremism, rather than threats to the Islamic community.
In Auckland, Ardern acknowledged the victims and survivors of the attack, saying “You are the reason we are here.”
The government also released two national security reports on Tuesday: a “summary of the long-term outlook” and a major survey of New Zealanders’ views.
The survey showed that only one in five believed their security agencies shared enough national security information.
The top five kiwifruit self-assessed threats were natural disasters, disinformation, hacking, another major health outbreak, and organized crime.
“A very clear message we have heard is that people want us to talk and share more about national security and that knowing more about the threats we face makes people more confident in our ability to respond to them,” Ardern said.
“New Zealanders need to know more about current and emerging threats to our national security.
“We all have a role to play in preventing the worst. Being open about our risks is part of this ”.
She said she was “engaged in a public conversation about national security”.
“Talking about national security can be complicated, but it’s something we need to do more about,” he said.
Ardern has made fighting online disinformation and radicalization one of her main issues as prime minister.
Together with French President Emmanuel Macron, he led the Christchurch Call, his main foreign policy, which brings together countries and tech companies to try to fight online hate.
Ardern said a growing number of kiwis are worried about online threats, as is the government.
“One in four people believed that disinformation and disinformation were the greatest (security) threat to them and their family,” he said.
Microsoft, which is a key partner in the Christchurch appeal, has reported a spike in Russian-origin propaganda in New Zealand starting in December 2021.
“Much of this was related to COVID-19 and this spike preceded an increase in protests against COVID-19 measures and other problems in New Zealand,” Ardern said.
Vaccine protesters in Fenruary staged a three-week occupation of Parliament’s land that resulted in police intervention, arson and dozens of criminal charges.