At each hui between the Royal Commission and the Muslim Community Reference Group a number of questions will be asked and answered. These questions may come from Reference Group members themselves, or perhaps from the wider community. Those questions and answers will be published and updated here after each hui.

  • Questions about the Muslim Community Reference Group
  • Questions about the role of the Muslim Community Reference Group
  • Questions about the Royal Commission process
  • Questions about the Royal Commission’s engagement
  • Questions about the Royal Commission team
  • Questions about information and evidence gathering
  • Questions about the Royal Commission's findings and recommendations and report


Questions about the Muslim Community Reference Group


What is the relationship between the Muslim Community Reference Group and the Royal Commission?

The Royal Commission has set up the Muslim Community Reference Group to help it build in appropriate and accessible opportunities for Muslim communities to take part in the inquiry.

The Reference Group is an advisory group to the Royal Commission. It has no decision-making powers.

The Reference Group also enables members to have a direct line to the Royal Commission and to discuss issues directly with the two Members of the Royal Commission and/or key officers of the Royal Commission. Members have the opportunity to take part directly in the inquiry process by:

  • sharing stories and lived experiences that can help inform the Royal Commission’s report;
  • helping the Royal Commission to identify questions to ask of the State agencies in our information and evidence gathering phase;
  • asking questions directly of the Royal Commission that your community wish to receive responses to about how we are operating and then acting as a conduit back to your communities with the answers that have been provided; and
  • offering throughout the inquiry process practical assistance or guidance to the two Members of the Royal Commission, Executive Director and wider secretariat, on any emerging issues relating to the engagement and communications activities.

Community perspectives are a vital part of informing the Royal Commission’s work.


Was the Muslim communities’ involvement an afterthought? Why has there been secrecy around the invitations to participate in the Muslim Community Reference Group?

The Royal Commission values community involvement in its inquiry.

At the start of its work, it was agreed that a Muslim Community Reference Group would assist the Royal Commission in its inquiry. This was set out in Minute 1 issued in mid-May 2019.

The Royal Commission initially met with religious leaders in Christchurch and the Christchurch Muslim Liaison Group in May 2019, and the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand and Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand in June 2019.

It took some time to develop a set of criteria that the Royal Commission would use to select members of the Reference Group, and also undertake some research of possible members on the internet. Nominations were also received directly from people and organisations, and the last set of nominations were received at the end of June 2019.

The Royal Commission made decisions on the criteria in early June 2019, and then decisions on possible members in three tranches – mid and late June and early July based on the criteria. Initial contact was made with possible members.

It was important to respect peoples’ decision making around joining the group, and their privacy during this time. We did this by giving all potential members the privacy to consider and decide whether to join the group. Each member was advised that it was the Royal Commission’s preference to be transparent and make public that if they agreed to become a member of the Reference Group that their name would be made public.

After the invitations went out, some invited members still wanted to know more before agreeing to continue, and some also had personal security concerns they wished to discuss further. Therefore we kept the details of the invited members confidential until after the first hui of the Reference Group as requested by some members. They have since been made public.


What criteria were used to select members of the Reference Group?

New Zealand’s ethnic communities are diverse. The Muslim community is made up of many communities from across the world. The Royal Commission considered that the Muslim Community Reference Group had to reflect this diversity.

The following criteria were applied when selecting members:

  • Gender with a desire to achieve a 50/50 ratio, if possible;
  • Ethnicity with a desire to ensure a diverse range of ethnicities are represented;
  • Age with a desire to ensure that the Reference Group includes a range of ages (including youth, adults and elders);
  • Religious diversity with a desire to ensure different religious perspectives are represented; and
  • Geographical location with a desire to ensure a geographical spread of Reference Group members, while acknowledging the attacks took place in Christchurch.

The Royal Commission also considered an individual’s potential to uniquely contribute to the inquiry, including the organisation(s) that the individual may represent, are involved with or have connections to.

I was chosen by the Royal Commission, not my community. What support is there for me to engage with my community?

The Royal Commission can provide a range of resources to support community engagement activities led by Reference Group members, such as booking venues and refreshments, providing translators and note takers, and training on how to facilitate meetings. 

How do you give every single voice an equal opportunity to be heard?

We will continue to use an independent facilitator, who will help us to work in small groups as well as the whole group. We are supplying meeting notes after each hui for feedback.


Questions about the role of the Muslim Community Reference Group

What is the relationship between the Muslim Community Reference Group and the inquiry’s process?

The Inquiries Act 2013 sets out that a Royal Commission can decide its own procedures in a manner consistent with that Act and the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference. The Chair, Sir William Young, and Member, Jacqui Caine, determined the approach including the Royal Commission’s information and evidence gathering processes in a way that has to be consistent with the Inquiries Act and its Terms of Reference.

The Royal Commission is independent of Government. The Inquiries Act 2013 states that “In exercising its powers and duties and performing its duties under this Act, an inquiry and each of its members must act independently, impartially, and fairly”.

A Royal Commission can inquire into any issues it sees fit, to investigate issues consistent with the Inquiries Act and its Terms of Reference. A copy of the Terms of Reference can be found here.

The Reference Group plays an essential role in helping the Royal Commission connect with Muslim communities to make findings on:

  • what State sector agencies knew about the accused attacker, before 15 March 2019
  • what State sector agencies did (if anything) with that knowledge
  • whether there was anything else State sector agencies could have done to prevent the attack
  • what else State sector agencies should do to prevent such attacks in the future.

The Reference Group is not a steering group and does not have decision-making powers.

How can the Muslim Community Reference Group/Muslim communities support the work of the Royal Commission without jeopardising it?

You can support our work by keeping any confidential matters we share with you private.

We will keep confidential matters you share with us private.

Not all of our discussions at the Reference Group will need to remain private.

You can also support us by advising us, as best you can, on how we can ensure Muslim communities can take part in this inquiry.

We seek your support in keeping your communities informed of the discussions and seeking information from them that may assist our inquiry work.

We are also interested in hearing your views on what recommendations you consider the Royal Commission must make to the Government and why.


How can the Muslim Community Reference Group play a role in the community engagement work in the Royal Commission?

As set out in the Muslim Community Reference Group’s Terms of Reference, members are taking part directly in the inquiry process by:    

  • asking questions of the Royal Commission, and respectfully challenging the Royal Commission to keep it accountable and reflective on its processes and progress 
  • advising the Royal Commission using their knowledge and experience, to allow it to enable and enrich the Royal Commission’s community engagement with Muslim communities 
  • critiquing, providing feedback and offering advice on the Royal Commission’s communications both with the Reference Group, and with wider Muslim communities and public engagement
  • assisting in identifying gaps and opportunities to reach communities of interest, population groups, or people whom the Royal Commission needs to hear from 
  • at the end of the public submission process, providing feedback on the extent to which the Royal Commission has heard from a fair and reasonable range of views, and if there are outstanding communities of interest or points of view that have not been heard from
  • providing feedback on initial thinking from the Royal Commission about key themes, key findings being considered, or key recommendations from the perspective of the extent to which it reflects matters raised by Muslim communities, and
  • offering practical assistance or guidance on any emerging issues, themes, or community feedback relating to engagement and communications activities and matters within the scope of the Inquiry more broadly, throughout the Royal Commission’s term.


Did the Royal Commission decide to expand the coverage to all 217 government agencies as a direct response to concerns raised by Reference Group members at the first hui?

The Royal Commission had been considering doing this independently and welcomed the support from the Reference Group and others who also suggested it.

What is the ability of the Muslim Community Reference Group to ask questions of agencies during the process?

You are welcome to ask questions relating to the Terms of Reference and submit them to the Royal Commission. We will then determine whether the proposed questions fit within scope of the Terms of Reference, and if they do ask the relevant State sector agencies for a response.


Questions about the Royal Commission process

How is the inquiry going?

The Royal Commission has largely completed the information and evidence gathering phase of the process. The two Members of the Royal Commission are supported by a strong team of officers with good expertise to chase lines of inquiry, and ensure we meet with and hear from a wide range of people, including experts here and overseas and many community members and organisations.


How will the Royal Commission be open and transparent?

The use of powers provided through the Inquiries Act 2013, is not taken lightly and we are mindful that the effective restrictions on transparency will be a frustration.  

The Royal Commission has made interim, rather than permanent orders wherever possible, working on the assumption that after the report has been made public, evidence and information gathered will be made public unless it is subject to issues of privacy, confidentiality, natural justice or national security.  

We are providing updates regularly and sharing information about who we are meeting with, to provide some insight into the Royal Commission’s work. 

We appreciate this will not satisfy all interests, but we must manage the work of the Royal Commission with the utmost care to protect the integrity of the process. 


What support can organisations access to develop a credible written submission? What financial or legal support can organisations access to develop a credible submission?

Some organisations and individuals were given legal or financial assistance to support their engagement in Royal Commission processes.

The Inquiries Act provides for the Royal Commission to make a recommendation to the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs on the contents of a legal assistance grant. The decision of the Chief Executive is final.

Hardship was a key factor that the Royal Commission had to take into account in determining whether to recommend to the Chief Executive of Internal Affairs the grant be approved.


What languages is your information available in?

All information is provided in English and we have translated our Terms of Reference and basic information about the Royal Commission into Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, Dari, Somali, Persian, Hindi, Bangla, and Pashto. The Terms of Reference are also available in Te Reo Māori. 

Read our translated Terms of Reference


How was the Royal Commission’s budget set? How is it being spent?

You can find our information about the establishment of the Royal Commission, including how the Royal Commission’s budget was set at, on the Department of Internal Affairs website.    

Information concerning the Royal Commission’s financial position will be released as part of the Department of Internal Affairs’ annual report, and annual financial review.


Questions about the Royal Commission’s engagement

How are you engaging with victims and families affected by the attacks?

We have invited families to meet with the Royal Commission in person, in a way that suits them, and families are taking up that offer. Those we have met with to date have asked that any meetings are in private and remain confidential.

We have been keenly aware of the need to consider those most deeply affected by the attacks, and have considered that the best way to respect their loss was to give them all the time and space they need, and to invite them to meet with us on their own terms in a way that suits them.

The two Members of the Royal Commission have met with or scheduled meetings with affected families and survivors of the attack who have approached the Royal Commission and were ready to share their thoughts.


Do you just engage with Muslim Communities or other communities?

The Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference expects us to connect with Muslim communities and other New Zealand communities. We have met with other New Zealand communities, generally through non-governmental organisations that represent those communities. The public submission process also enabled the public to provide their views and suggestions directly to the Royal Commission and was open from 1 July to 27 September 2019.


Why has the Royal Commission not named the communities it has met with? 

Not all community groups the Royal Commission has met with have been comfortable to have their details published. Some people have voiced concerns about potential repercussions in their community, at their place of employment, or in the media should their identities be made public and have asked for confidentiality which has been granted by the Royal Commission.


How will specific individual contributors to the Royal Commission’s work be kept private? How will the Royal Commission record all the submissions it receives for access in the future by the Muslim communities?

The Royal Commission will not publicly release submissions or the personal details of submitters.  

We may release a summary of the themes identified within submissions, but people’s personal details will not be released.  

Any person or organisation could choose to publicly release their own submission if they wish to. The Royal Commission has no responsibility for any submissions made public in this way. It would be up to individuals or organisations to decide whether and how to do so.


Why did the Royal Commission contact and get involved with the State sector agencies earlier than getting in touch with the Muslim communities and the Muslim Community Reference Group? Do you want to hear from them more than the Muslim communities and the Muslim Community Reference Group? Why didn’t the Muslim Community Reference Group get the option to guide the Royal Commission early on?

The Royal Commission has been tasked with thoroughly investigating the issues, so that it can reassure the New Zealand public that all appropriate measures are being taken by relevant State sector agencies to ensure their safety and protection.

It was vital we started gathering information and evidence from government agencies at an early stage due to the processes involved and it made sense to form the Muslim Community Reference Group once a base level of understanding was achieved.

The Muslim Communities Reference Group is one way for the Royal Commission to engage with Muslim communities but not the only way.

We have also been engaging directly with a range of Muslim communities since May.

The Royal Commission initially met with religious leaders in Christchurch and the Christchurch Muslim Liaison Group in May 2019, and the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand and Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand in June 2019.

It took longer than expected to design and establish the Reference Group and recruit a team of community engagement experts to support that engagement with skills including an understanding of Muslim communities, refugees, race relations, social exclusion, and dealing with trauma and grief We were also deeply mindful of the need to respect Muslim events and practices like the iddah grieving period and Ramadan.


Questions about the Royal Commission team

Who made the decision to appoint the two Members to the Royal Commission and what criteria did they apply?

A group of Ministers (Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General and the Minister of Internal Affairs) made the decisions on the appointment of the two Members of the Royal Commission. They were authorised by the ‘Cabinet of New Zealand’ to make the decisions. (Cabinet is the New Zealand Government’s body of senior Ministers of the Crown, responsible to the New Zealand Parliament. Cabinet meetings, chaired by the Prime Minister, occur once a week; in them, vital issues are discussed and government policy is developed).

The criteria the group of Ministers applied for the appointments included:

  • proven ability to lead complex, system-level reviews drawing on a wide range of perspectives;
  • knowledge of, or experience in, examining systems or processes affecting individuals;
  • knowledge of the machinery of government and government processes;
  • knowledge of legal systems and practices;
  • experience working in the public eye without being unduly influenced by public comment;
  • the ability to assess evidence dispassionately, but appropriately, with no predetermined view of the outcome;
  • a sound understanding of intelligence issues; and
  • significant governance experience.

You can find out more information about the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Department of Internal Affairs website


What criteria were used for selecting the Royal Commission staff?

All staff were interviewed for a role with the Royal Commission by the Executive Director, Benesia Smith, MNZM and in some instances one or more other individuals. All individuals that have been employed or seconded to the Royal Commission were assessed against a set of competencies for the particular role they have been employed or seconded to.


How will any real or perceived conflict of interest from secondees from State sector agencies working in the Royal Commission’s secretariat be managed?

The Royal Commission has developed an Association: Identification, Disclosure and Management Policy. It provides that the two Members of the Royal Commission and all officers of the Royal Commission must declare any actual, potential or perceived association in order to protect the integrity of the Royal Commission.

These associations are recorded for the purposes of transparency within the Royal Commission and any necessary management. To avoid doubt, just because someone involved in the Royal Commission has an association relevant to their Royal Commission work, it does not follow that they have any actual, potential, or perceived association. Some situations will not be clear-cut and will involve questions of degree. Therefore, the need to exercise careful judgement on a case-by-case basis is necessary.

An association arises when a Member or an officer has a personal association in an issue that could give rise to the appearance of bias in the work or decision-making of the Royal Commission. These fall under one of two categories:

  • a manageable association, which can be avoided or adequately mitigated and managed through an appropriate response (e.g. not participating in a particular activity or discussion, relinquishing membership of an organisation etc.).
  • an unmanageable association, which arises if the association is unavoidable and cannot be managed through an appropriate response, or the association affects so many of the Royal Commission’s activities that management mechanisms would not be practicable.

A register of such issues is kept by the Executive Director and reviewed regularly.


Are you resourced enough? How many staff are in the team?

There are currently about 45 people working in the Royal Commission secretariat, some of whom work part time. We are regularly reviewing our work programme and the resources needed to deliver it. 


Is there staff training ensuring you are picking up the right things? How does the Royal Commission ensure submissions are synthesised, summarised effectively, given cultural, religious context within these submissions?

Royal Commission staff and the community experts we talk to have a range of skills and cultural competencies.  The two Members of the Royal Commission and Secretariat staff have received training in dealing with unconscious bias.


How are you going to get the report done by 10 December 2019? Can the timeframe be extended?

We were aware of the challenges of the 10 December 2019 timeframe, and we appreciated the Muslim Community Reference Group’s support in writing to the Government about this. The two Members of the Royal Commission also sent a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs seeking an extension. The Government has considered the letters and has amended the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference. The report is now due on 30 April. 


Questions about information and evidence gathering

What approach is the Royal Commission taking to asking questions of agencies?

The Royal Commission is taking a varied approach to its inquiries with State agencies. This includes writing to the agency seeking information, meeting with Chief Executives and other officials, reviewing documentation received from the state agencies or other parties. The information and evidence phase has also involved a series of interviews with state sector agencies under oath.


When the Royal Commission asks questions of the State sector agencies, what can it feedback to the Muslim Community Reference Group about the answers?

We would like to be upfront with you and not make commitments we can’t uphold.

In general terms we anticipate that the Royal Commission may be able to provide limited feedback on some answers provided by State sector agencies. This will be impacted by the privacy of our Inquiry, the fair trial rights of the accused, natural justice processes and the classified nature of some of the answers.


Can the Muslim Community Reference Group provide feedback on the answers that State agencies provide?

It is possible the Royal Commission may ask the Reference Group to give further information or clarity to information obtained through its enquiries with State agencies. However, the Reference Group will not review or feedback on all information provided by the State agencies as it is subject to national security, confidentiality, privacy and natural justice considerations.


Can we have nominated members of the group to be part of meetings with State sector agencies to verify validity?

We cannot accommodate having people who are not Members of the Royal Commission or Royal Commission officers in our meetings with State sector agencies. This is because of privacy, confidentiality, natural justice and national security considerations. 


If State sector agencies know that the Royal Commission is asking questions of them, will they destroy the evidence or lose the notes from when we met with them?

Deliberately impeding the Royal Commission’s inquiries is an offence under the Inquiries Act and will be dealt with accordingly.

If Reference Group members are aware of such activity, we urge you to bring this to our attention.


Why should the Muslim Community Reference Group focus on what questions to ask the State sector agencies when they will only fill in the gaps in the questions the Royal Commission already asked?

The Royal Commission’s inquisitorial approach means questions are asked of the State sector agencies, which then raise further questions to be asked and so on.

This means that we have multiple discussions with State sector agencies and can revisit issues where we need more information.

If we receive new information or suggested lines of inquiry from the Reference Group, we will pursue those with agencies.


How will you avoid State sector agencies hiding behind the excuse of national security?  

The Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission include the expectation that all relevant State sector agencies and employees will do their utmost to co-operate with the Royal Commission given the importance of the issues it is charged with examining and reporting on.  

The Royal Commission members and relevant staff have the necessary security clearances to examine any material held by State sector agencies. 

The Royal Commission is also able to summon witnesses and compel State sector agencies to provide information and evidence. 


How will submissions be documented? How will you accurately record all submissions?

Submissions received were acknowledged and entered into a database, which records basic information including topics covered by the submitter and a brief summary of the content of the submission. We made a digital record of any visual aids that were presented and annotated our notes with descriptions as required. 

Where submissions requested further confidentiality, this was noted in the database and the submission was handled in confidence by an appropriate Royal Commission officer.  

Where there was information in the submission that suggested we should do further work, this was documented and referred to the appropriate Royal Commission officer to action. 

All submissions were read, synthesised and analysed.  

In synthesising submissions received, care is taken to ensure the synthesis represents common themes and less common themes that offer a unique or interesting insight. 

We search key terms across all of the submissions to collate related materials. The submission material will also be reviewed word-by-word as a final check to ensure that nothing has been overlooked.


Questions about the Royal Commission’s findings and recommendations and report

Will there be anything in the report around accountability? If agencies are found liable, what accountability is there and how will it be addressed?

The Terms of Reference say the Royal Commission must make findings about whether State sector agencies were in some way at fault, and what information they had and how they shared it.

The Inquiries Act 2013 and Terms of Reference prevent the Royal Commission from determining that any person has civil, criminal or disciplinary liability. However, the Royal Commission can make findings of fault or recommendations that further steps be taken to determine liability.  

If State sector agencies are found to have been at fault, they are accountable to the government, who can make changes to the way those agencies operate. 


In the findings, will there be recommendations/comment about fit and proper checks and vetting processes for firearms?

The Terms of Reference say the Royal Commission must investigate the accused’s activities before 15 March 2019, and how he obtained a gun licence, weapons, and ammunition. The Royal Commission is currently investigating these matters.

Could the Royal Commission make recommendations around broadcasting policies within NZ media?

The Royal Commission cannot inquire into activity by organisations outside the State sector, but could potentially consider the laws they operate under. 


Why are we focussed on pre the attack, why not post the attack?

The Terms of Reference prevent the Royal Commission from considering how state sector agencies, including the Police, responded to the attack once it began. The Terms of Reference were set by the Government.


Do the police review their own response? Will the police make any findings public?

Based on newspaper reports, we understand the New Zealand Police are reviewing their own response to the attack once it began. It will be up to the New Zealand Police to determine if the internal review will be made public. 


Are the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission predetermined?


Any findings and recommendations will be made once the Royal Commission has completed its information and evidence phase, and analysed and carefully considered all of the material.


What’s happening after the report?

Once the report is finalised, the Royal Commission will deliver it to the Governor-General, who then gives the report to the Government.  We understand that the Government will then consider the report, its findings and recommendations, and then decide how to respond. This could take some time to announce how the Government intends to respond, depending on how many recommendations are made and what they are. As we are a Royal Commission and our report is presented to the Governor-General, the Inquiries Act says that our report must also be presented to the House of Representatives (the New Zealand Parliament) as soon as practicable.


How and who makes the decision about what is published from the report? When will the report be published?

Once the government receives the report, the government will make decisions about what is made public, when and how.


How will the Royal Commission ensure that the recommendations are implemented?

Once the Royal Commission has delivered the report, what happens to it is out of our hands. We cannot force the Government to accept the findings and implement the recommendations.


If there’s no obligation on the Government to act on the Royal Commission’s report, then what does it matter?

It is vital that the Royal Commission’s report be authoritative, fair and thorough with solid findings and recommendations that can be implemented. The Government has asked the Royal Commission to develop an independent, authoritative and complete report to reassure the New Zealand public, including its Muslim communities, that all appropriate measures are being taken to keep people safe.  A high-quality report will enable the Government to take action to better protect New Zealand.