The Government is legislating at breakneck pace to pass a bill it calls "Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation". It was introduced on Tuesday, its deadline for submissions was yesterday, it is due back from a select committee next Tuesday and the Prime Minister wants it passed before the House rises for Christmas.

It will allow the SIS to conduct video surveillance on private property and to do so for 48 hours without a warrant, and will enable New Zealand passports to be suspended for 10 days or even cancelled for up to three years. All this, in case we harbour aspirant fighters for a fundamentalist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Doubtless we have some. Isis reputedly uses the internet for recruitment and its bitter rants, coupled with beheadings of captives, have attracted dissidents from other Western countries. But we need more evidence of the threat to justify the bill's drastic measures. It should not be enacted without cross-party support. Labour supported the legislation at the first reading but remains sceptical about the need for it.

Its foreign affairs spokesman, David Shearer, has been briefed by the SIS and acknowledges new threats to New Zealand. "We have to accept what we hear in the briefings," he said, "but we're not going to give a free pass to get this through." Labour's new leader, Andrew Little, expected SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge to give him some "actual examples" that would have been captured by the laws proposed.


Though the legislation is proceeding with worrying haste, it was telegraphed weeks ago when John Key announced New Zealand would not be making a combat contribution to the war against Isis.

He said the SIS had between 30 and 40 people under surveillance and another 30 to 40 it needed to investigate. It might have to tell Mr Little more about those people and the threat they present if the bill is to receive a bipartisan blessing.

Mr Key has said some of those on the watch list had gone to Syria to fight and others had tried to do so. Their passports had been cancelled. He said he did not want to overstate the risks such people presented in New Zealand, but insisted there were individuals here attracted to carrying out deadly attacks of the type recently foiled in Australia and perpetrated on Canada's Parliament.

New Zealand finds it hard to take these warnings seriously. The sources of terrorism seem too far away and the country too small to warrant attention. But these things can happen here. The question is whether the possibility warrants reductions in civil liberties. Suspending or cancelling passports is extremely restrictive. The citizen becomes a captive, and perhaps more likely to turn to targets here.

The bill requires much more discussion than its tight schedule will permit. National has the votes to pass it without Labour's support but clearly hopes to get it.

Labour may not be in an agreeable mood after the report of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security on a former SIS director's treatment of former Labour leader Phil Goff, but the party knows the public appreciates bipartisan accord. It remembers how National was applauded when a new Opposition leader, Mr Key, struck a deal on anti-smacking legislation.

These surveillance and passport restrictions are more important and should not be supported, or opposed, merely for political points. Labour should make a dispassionate assessment of the risks and security needs explained to its leader in confidence, and vote accordingly.

It has not been given much time to decide but should meet the schedule. This is a bill that demands a second opinion.