Zacchaeus the tax collector features in today’s gospel (Lk 19:1–10) and gives Jesus a chance to show us how to honour all of God’s creatures without restriction.
As I reflected on this reading, I thought about those who have a principal role in our main story this month on changes to the immigration law which will make it harder for refugees and their families to come into this country.
The Immigration Act is now 20 years old and much has changed since its enactment in terms of the movement of peoples around the globe. As well as those fleeing countries torn by international conflicts, there is now a new class of refugee, those who are displaced within their countries by civil war. Refugees have always been outcasts and New Zealand can congratulate itself as one of the few countries that still takes an annual quota of refugees.
But the proposed changes give immigration officials sweeping powers which are not subject to appeal. Many refugees have in the past been able to bring their families into the country by appealing against an initial decision. This may well be taken away from them if the bill is passed unchanged.
While we’re thinking about outcasts, another major story to hit the country last month features some historical outcasts in our own land, the indigenous people, tangata whenua, the people of the land.
Police are reported to have been working on this project for a year. The raids began on 15 October and swooped on activists, mainly Māori, in Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, Palmerston North, Whakatane, Ruatoki and Wellington. A number of those arrested were detained in custody, most notably Tame Iti who has challenged the country’s administration on numerous occasions in the past. (See Terry Dibble’s testimonial, page 6.)
The arrests have been made under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. This law was enacted following attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001.
The Act defines terrorist activity as terrorising a population, bombing, and other acts of violence. It names organisations such as Al Qaeda as terrorist.
It is difficult to imagine Tame Iti and his ilk falling into the same category.
Tame’s lawyer, Moana Jackson, said in a background primer that under the legislation Police must get approval from the Attorney General to lay any terrorism charges. Instead, most search warrants were granted under the Summary Offences Act and most arrests were made under the Firearms Act.
It is too early to comment on this particular case but it is worth watching for it has the potential to undermine the human rights of an important sector of New Zealand society.