The Security Intelligence Service, the country's domestic spying agency, looks set to gain greater surveillance powers in a quickfire overhaul of terrorism laws despite Prime Minister John Key's acknowledgement of a "low" risk to this country.

Mr Key's new Cabinet met for the first time yesterday, and featuring on the agenda was the rubber-stamping of an immediate review of anti-terror laws, primarily the Terrorism Suppression Act, which was hastily put in place after the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks.

Confirming the review he has now been discussing for several days, Mr Key disclosed New Zealand's national threat level for the first time, saying it had recently been raised from "very low" to "low". That implies the threat of a terrorist attack is now seen as "possible but not expected".

It has been raised to that only once before - temporarily during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Australia's level on the same scale is "high", suggesting a terror attack there is likely.


Mr Key has talked about potential threats in recent days, even going so far as to caution that New Zealand was not immune from attacks such as this month's alleged plot by an extremist group to behead random members of the Australian public.

Yesterday, he was not backing away from that warning and while he refused to give details, he responded to those who had suggested he was scaremongering by saying: "If anyone believes there is absolutely no risk of a form of domestic terrorism here then they're actually deluded."

The most immediate manifestation of the terror threat was the rapid rise of Islamic State (Isis).

About 3000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria had Western passports, including a small number of Kiwis.

"They threaten to return to their countries of origin both radicalised and with military training."

Mr Key said he was also aware of several Kiwis seeking to travel overseas to fight for groups such as Isis and that the group was running a sophisticated social media campaign to identify and recruit NZ jihadists.

New Zealand's intelligence and security framework was to be reviewed next year, but "the issue of foreign fighters is an immediate and rapidly evolving one that cannot wait to be considered as part of that wider review", the Prime Minister said.

The immediate review was due to take four weeks and Mr Key expected it would recommend law changes which he hoped to pass under urgency before Christmas. He would seek Opposition support, and yesterday offered to brief leaders of other parties on the underlying issues.