The perils of a New Zealand Border Force


Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New Zealand it was the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, an agency that many in Canterbury were pleased to see the back of.

So, why am I opposed to a New Zealand Border agency being created? There are several reasons, which I then explore in greater depth:

  • The existing agencies charged with our border protection are perfectly capable of doing the job if we just resource, staff and train them appropriately
  • A New Zealand Border agency would probably be modelled on the Australian Border Force, which has courted controversy with many of its actions
  • These types of agencies – if we use the Australian Border Force or the American Immigration Customs Enforcement Force as examples tend to be used to conduct raids on minorities, be used as instruments of fear to give effect to institutionalized xenophobia
  • If we have a N.Z.B. agency then detention facilities like those on Manus and Nauru Islands in Australia are likely to be the next step – who would we put in them?

The New Zealand Customs Service is entrusted with the protection of our borders. Whilst I certainly agree that it is not sufficiently funded or resourced, we are a small country that has somewhat limited resources compared to Australia or the United States. I also note that they are also geographically much larger countries with correspondingly larger populations and more diverse resources to protect. I would argue that maintaining a single well resourced and funded agency is preferable to several that duplicate responsibilities.

The Australian Border Force was created by Minister of Homeland Security Peter Dutton in July 2015. The A.B.F. has run the controversial Operation Sovereign Borders, which involves the detention of people who arrived without a visa from foreign countries. Whilst noting the right of Australia to protect its border, politicians from the Liberal Party and One Nation have frequently used border security as an excuse to carry out activities that breach Australia’s international human rights obligations.

In a New Zealand context a border agency would need an independent watch dog that can monitor its activity and report to Parliament on a regular basis with regards to the Border Force’s actions. It also needs to be able to issue guidance that has legal weighting, whereas the A.B.F has a Minister who will surely deny that the A.B.F. has committed any serious wrongs.

National and New Zealand First both seem to like the idea of a New Zealand border agency. The National Party version seems to be focussed on addressing COVID19 returnees. It would not allow anyone in who has not been tested and wants countries of origin to be responsible for the testing. Aside from there being no legal way to enforce this Trumpian idea in a foreign jurisdiction, the National proposal goes one step further in that it seeks to block New Zealanders in countries that might not have the means or know how to carry out such testing. This potentially breaches the Human Rights Act 1986 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

And the N.Z. border agency may be more than just a pandemic control agency. Instead of being limited to stopping people at the border who might have COVID19, it would if we took the Australian model, also become an agency that expresses the worst of institutionalized fear mongering by targetting minority groups based on ethnicity, religious background and so forth.

In both the United States and Australia agencies of this nature have been linked to the eventual establishment of detention centre systems that are often run by private firms such as Serco, or Wilsons. For these private operations are purely profit driven and to contract out government responsibilities around the lives and safety of detainees, has led in the Australian case to shocking stories of abject squalor, suicides, children self harming, guards mistreating detainees. And when the media try to hold them to account, they become targets of government anger.

We do not need any of this in New Zealand. It is for these reasons I refuse to support the creation of New Zealand border agency.

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