Mosque inquiry raising questions

Flowers at the gate of the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo: NZME
Flowers at the gate of the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo: NZME
Controversy has been swirling around the long-awaited report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch mosques shootings, ahead of its public release expected next week.

It is unlikely the report from the inquiry by Sir William Young and Jacqui Caine will have found the behaviour of all agencies was exemplary in the lead-up to this horrendous event that killed 51 Muslims, practising their faith.

We already know, through a recent Newshub report, police did not follow their own processes in the issuing of a gun licence to the terrorist.

The rules are that when you apply for a licence, one referee must be a spouse, partner or next-of-kin normally living with you or related to you while the other must be unrelated, more than 20 years old, who knows you well.

However, the terrorist’s referees were his online gaming friend and that friend’s father.

The controversy around the report is over how much of the 800 pages of it the public will get to see.

Almost 400 people were interviewed by the inquiry, including the gunman, behind closed doors, and there were a further 1000 public submissions that have also not been divulged.

There has been concern from some members of Muslim communities, academics, and public sector agencies about the commission’s decision not to publish the interview with the terrorist.

It will be provided to the police and the New Zealand Security Intelligence service to help them improve their knowledge of extreme right-wing and lone actor terrorists.

The commissioners were concerned some of his interview might be seen as advice to potential terrorists or used to provide a platform for the dissemination of his views.

The commission has also advised evidence and submissions by public sector chief executives and current and former ministers will be suppressed for 30 years.

National security has been cited as a reason for this as the commissioners said full publication of the evidence could provide a "how-to manual for future terrorists". In 30 years, such concerns would likely have "dissipated".

These concerns are understandable, but it is difficult to understand why they would mean all the evidence and submissions need to be secret. Such an all-encompassing approach risks exacerbating concerns the inquiry report will be a whitewash, downplaying questions of accountability if people within or heading agencies have been found wanting.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has essentially urged people not to prejudge the report.

Under its terms of reference, the commission must make findings on whether state agencies had information that could have alerted them to the attack, how the agencies worked with each other, whether they failed to anticipate the attack because they were focused elsewhere, whether they were at fault, and any other matters to provide a complete report.

It must make recommendations on what improvements could be made to the way state agencies gather, share and analyse information, how state agency systems could be improved to prevent future terrorist attacks, and any other matters to provide a complete report.

The inquiry has no power to determine the civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability of any person but may, in exercising its powers and performing its duties, make findings of fault or recommendations that further steps be taken to determine liability.

How far it goes down that track, and whether it will satisfy those concerned about transparency and accountability, will be revealed on Tuesday when the report is expected to be released.


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