Sunday, March 28, 2004

When did we bcome a tyranny?

The government is planning draconian changes to our citizenship and passport laws, including:

  • Removing the automatic right of citizenship from babies born in New Zealand to foreign parents.
  • Giving the SIS the power to deny or revoke the passports of New Zealand citizens for reasons of "national security".

The first proposal strikes at the heart of what this country is all about. New Zealand has traditionally been a generous, open and welcoming country. Our openness to immigration, tolerance of dual citizenship, and welcoming of refugees and those in need reflect this - as does the general outward-looking viewpoint created by our diaspora. Our position has always been that if you are born here, you're part of the family, no matter who your parents are or where they came from. I don't think this is something we should be changing.

The second is simply horrific - our freedom to travel will depend on the whim of a faceless, unaccountable security agency. The Zaoui case has already exposed the shoddy quality of the "evidence" the SIS uses to justify their decisions, as well as cast significant doubts on the independence and methods of their Inspector-General. Add to that their credulous and subserviant attitude to foreign intelligence agencies and their general lack of democratic oversight, and there is a grave danger of these powers being used against people whose only "crimes" are political, rather than against people who are actively dangerous.

Quite apart from concerns about the competence and motives of the SIS, there is also the fact that this is one of those things that no government can be trusted with. Like imprisonment without trial, restricting movement or stopping people from leaving the country is one of the classic hallmarks of tyranny. The New Zealand government recognised this by including in the Bill of Rights Act 1990 a clause protecting freedom of movement, the right of every New Zealand citizen to enter New Zealand, and the right of everyone to leave. This can be restricted only by such reasonable limits that can be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." An SIS veto on our freedom of travel is neither reasonable, free, nor democratic. It should be opposed by anyone who cares at all about human rights.