On 15 March 2019, Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch were attacked by a terrorist while worshippers were at prayer. Fifty-one people were killed and 40 others injured, some seriously.
We use the description “affected whānau, survivors and witnesses” to refer to whānau of the 51 shuhada, and the survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack and their whānau. We have chosen not to name shuhada, survivors and witnesses in this summary of submissions. We acknowledge acts of heroism and compassion, but believe it would be inappropriate to name some people but not all.
On 26 March 2020 an Australian man pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of engaging in a terrorist act. On 27 August 2020, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole – the first time in New Zealand history this sentence has been imposed. This was on the charges of murder. He was also sentenced to life imprisonment for engaging in a terrorist act and to concurrent terms of 12 years’ imprisonment for each of 40 charges of attempted murder.
We refer to the convicted terrorist and murderer who carried out the terrorist attack as “the individual” throughout this summary of submissions.
Establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry
Following the terrorist attack, the Government announced that a Royal Commission of Inquiry would consider the events leading up to the terrorist attack. The Royal Commission was established by Order in Council on 8 April 2019. It appointed the Honourable Sir William Young as Chair and set out the Terms of Reference. Jacqui Caine was appointed as the second Member of the Royal Commission on 22 May 2019.
Our Terms of Reference directed us to inquire into what Public sector agencies knew about the individual’s activities before the terrorist attack, what (if anything) they did with that information, what they could have done to prevent the terrorist attack and what they should do to prevent such terrorist attacks in the future.
As well, we were asked to investigate the individual’s activities before 15 March 2019, including his time in Australia, his arrival and residence in New Zealand, his travel within New Zealand and internationally, how he obtained a gun licence, weapons and ammunition, his use of social media and other online media and his connections with people, whether in New Zealand or internationally.
Our Terms of Reference directed us to make findings on:
- whether there was any information provided or otherwise available to relevant [Public] sector agencies that could or should have alerted them to the terrorist attack and, if such information was provided or otherwise available, how the agencies responded to any such information, and whether that response was appropriate; and
- the interaction amongst relevant [Public] sector agencies, including whether there was any failure in information sharing between the relevant agencies; and
- whether relevant [Public] sector agencies failed to anticipate or plan for the terrorist attack due to an inappropriate concentration of counter-terrorism resources or priorities on other terrorism threats; and
- whether any relevant [Public] sector agency failed to meet required standards or was otherwise at fault, whether in whole or in part; and
- any other matters relevant to the purpose of the inquiry, to the extent necessary to provide a complete report.
And we were directed to make recommendations on:
- whether there is any improvement to information gathering, sharing, and analysis practices by relevant [Public] sector agencies that could have prevented the terrorist attack, or could prevent such terrorist attacks in the future, including, but not limited to, the timeliness, adequacy, effectiveness, and co-ordination of information disclosure, sharing, or matching between relevant [Public] sector agencies; and
- what changes, if any, should be implemented to improve relevant [Public] sector agency systems, or operational practices, to ensure the prevention of such terrorist attacks in the future; and
- any other matters relevant to the above, to the extent necessary to provide a complete report.
Limits to the inquiry
Our Terms of Reference set out matters that we were not allowed to inquire into:
The inquiry must not inquire into the guilt or innocence of any individual who has been, or may be, charged with offences in relation to the terrorist attack.
The inquiry must not inquire into, determine, or report in an interim or final way on, any of the following matters:
- amendments to firearms legislation (because the Government is already pursuing this issue);
- activity by entities or organisations outside the [Public] sector, such as media platforms; and
- how relevant [Public] sector agencies responded to the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019, once it had begun.
The Royal Commission started on 10 April 2019 and began receiving evidence on 13 May 2019. Our inquiry had several overlapping phases, from establishment to engagement with communities, information and evidence gathering, analysis and deliberations, holding evidential interviews and report development and presentation.
The original date for reporting to the Governor-General was 10 December 2019, but this was subsequently extended on two occasions until the final reporting date of 26 November 2020. These extensions were necessary because of the sheer volume of material we had to assess and the disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
We presented our report to Dame Patsy Reddy on 26 November 2020.
Our approach to seeking submissions
A primary purpose of our inquiry is to present an independent and authoritative report so that the Government can reassure New Zealanders that all appropriate measures are being taken to keep them safe.
To do that, we needed to hear from New Zealand’s communities, particularly because our general approach to the inquiry has meant that much of our work has been conducted in private.
We knew some people would feel more comfortable speaking to us if their privacy was protected. Before we commenced our submissions process, we received many phone calls and emails from people wanting to share their experiences or contribute to the inquiry. However, some people voiced concerns about the potential repercussions in their community, at their place of employment or in the media should their identity be made public.
We carefully weighed up which approach to seeking submissions would be most beneficial to us achieving our goals, while still allowing us to provide assurances to the people of New Zealand, and the Government, that we had conducted a transparent process.
Usually when analysing submissions, reports provide a breakdown of demographics to demonstrate how the views expressed represented a population. However, we were concerned that seeking from submitters information such as gender, age and ethnicity could create a barrier for people who were worried about their safety.
We looked at best practice across other inquiries and debated what information about submitters, if any, would be of value to the inquiry. We considered enabling submitters to provide optional demographic information. However, we would have been unable to validate such information so it would have been of limited use to inform our findings or our submissions analysis. We concluded that providing an anonymous forum was in the greater public interest. Submitters were invited to share their name and contact details with assurances that their submissions, identity and contact details would be kept confidential. However, anyone who made a submission was allowed to publish it if they wanted to do so.
What we asked people
We decided that we would not restrict what people could share with us by only allowing them to answer specific questions. We asked the public three open-ended questions to help guide thinking on matters that were important to us. However, people were welcome to share their thoughts on other topics related to our Terms of Reference.
Questions asked of the public
Specifically, we asked:
- What worries you most about the safety of your community?
- What should government agencies be doing to keep us safe?
- What could be done differently to help prevent something like this happening again?
To raise public awareness about the opportunity to make a submission, a simple 45 second radio advertisement was broadcast for the duration of the submissions period across all major radio stations, including ethnic and iwi radio. We also placed print advertisements in ethnic community newspapers.
The invitation to submit was translated into nine languages and distributed throughout communities. We reached out to affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack. We were aware that some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses may not have wished to meet with us, preferring to share their experiences by making a submission. We wrote to more than 160 community organisations, academics and other experts inviting them to make a submission.
We wanted to assure people that there was no right or wrong way to make a submission. We wanted to make contributing to the work of the Royal Commission easy and accessible for people in different circumstances, and with varied literacy levels and languages. As a result, submissions were taken online, via email and by post.
It became apparent to us that some people who wanted to make a submission were either not able to write it down, sometimes because their primary language was not English or because they did not have the time to compose their thoughts in writing. However, they could talk to us over the phone. We decided that oral submissions could be made and offered interpretation services to enable these.
We arranged times for people to phone Royal Commission officers, who listened to and recorded submissions. These submitters were not prompted during these conversations. After calls, we transcribed and recorded what they said. While this took some time for our team, we thought that offering an oral submissions process enabled a more inclusive approach.
It was important that we were sensitive to the needs of communities when people were making submissions. We were acutely aware that we were seeking information about people’s personal experiences at a time when many were still grieving, observing important cultural and religious events and trying to come to terms with the events of 15 March 2019.
Many people told us they needed more time to collect their thoughts in ways that they felt best represented their experiences and insights. As a result, we twice extended our submission period.
The submission period opened on 1 July 2019, with an initial closing date of 31 July 2019. This subsequently extended to 24 August 2019 and then to 27 September 2019, in response to requests from potential submitters who were unable to prepare their submissions within the original timeframe.
Late submissions were received and accepted. They were considered and included in this report and factored into our overall thinking about our final report.
We received some correspondence that was like submissions before the submissions process was announced. All of this correspondence was treated and counted as submissions.
Our approach to submissions analysis
This summary of submissions sets out in a short and accessible format the main points that people told us. We wanted to give the reader a sense of people’s views and to identify the concerns and potential solutions that were raised.
The summary of submissions is not a record of all points made, nor does it assign value. Rather, the summary has been structured to provide insights into the issues of most importance to different groups of submitters. The summary does not record what people have said to us as facts – it is their opinions, in some cases based on their own research.
Many submitters raised matters that are outside our Terms of Reference. Because these issues were clearly important enough for them to include in their submissions, we have reflected them in our summary.
We wrote the summary of submissions in a way that protects people’s personal privacy, honours our obligations of confidentiality and which complies with principles of natural justice. We have excluded names of individuals and organisations and other identifying information.
All of the observational comments, both negative and positive, contained in this document are those of submitters and are not the views or findings of the Royal Commission. Excerpts of some submissions are summarised or paraphrased. Where the submission is quoted verbatim, this is shown by using “speech marks” or as a block quote below the paragraph, like this:
This is a block quote below the paragraph.
How many submissions we received
We received a total of 1,168 submissions – 1,123 from individuals (including researchers and academics) and 44 from organisations. Submissions were received by the following methods:
- post or courier;
- website form;
- oral submissions; and
- physical submissions handed to Commissioners at meetings.
How we processed the submissions
All the submissions we received were numbered, read, logged into searchable databases and analysed. The majority of submitters commented on more than one issue. Some parties provided more than one submission document or correspondence. In these cases, all documents were logged as part of a single combined submission to avoid duplication.
Some submissions included information that we acted upon. These actions included following up with the submitter or asking questions of Public sector agencies. These actions were documented and referred to Royal Commission officers for action.
We undertook analysis to identify and summarise comments made in the submission and to identify submissions making common points. This approach resulted in considerable convergence of key themes. We also identified individual submissions that offered unique insights.
Structure of submissions analysis
We divided the submissions analysis into sections that reflect how they informed our lines of inquiry, analysis and deliberations that are addressed in our report:
- What people told us about the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack and its impact on affected whānau, survivors and witnesses.
- What people told us about the individual who committed the terrorist attack.
- People’s thoughts on firearms.
- Views on the national security system and counter-terrorism effort.
- People’s experiences at the border.
- How people think we could prevent harmful behaviour.
- What people thought about diversity and creating a more inclusive and cohesive New Zealand.
- Submissions outside our Terms of Reference.
- Concluding comments.
Each part of our analysis is structured in the same way, providing background on what is summarised, and setting out what people told us about the topics included in each part, even if the matters raised were outside our Terms of Reference.
Submissions from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses are summarised throughout this document. A more detailed summary of what we heard from this group from submissions and meetings is set out in our companion document What we heard from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses.
Numbers of references made to a topic or theme
We give an indication of how many references have been made to a topic or theme by using the following descriptors:
- “many” means more than 20;
- “some” means between ten and 20; and
- “a few” means less than ten.
These descriptors do not include any assessments of whether a submission represented the views of people additional to the submitter. Some submitters, for example, may state that they represent the views of thousands of people.
How we used the submissions
Every submission we received has contributed to our report. We have drawn on the submissions, along with information from meetings, interviews and research, to produce the report Ko tō tatou kāinga tēnei - Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019.