| 13.05,19. 10:08 PM |
Christchurch attacks royal commission gets underway behind closed doors
Jacinda Ardern (ABC News)
Perhaps the most important official inquiry ever to be held in New Zealand has begun considering evidence, but do not expect to hear much about it.
The Royal Commission into the Attack on Christchurch Mosques will be held in private — for now at least.
Australian gunman Brenton Tarrant, 28, is accused of killing 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 while live-streaming the massacre on Facebook.
The royal commission has been set up to look at what government agencies knew about Tarrant in the lead-up to the attacks, what actions (if any) they took, what could have been done to prevent the atrocity, and what can be done to prevent future attacks.
To do this, the commission is going to need to dig deeply into some highly classified, national security information. So unlike many royal commissions, this one will be held almost exclusively behind closed doors.
What sort of information will be examined?
Firstly, Tarrant's past will be mined extensively.
Investigators will be looking at his activities before the shootings, his life in Australia, his time in New Zealand, his overseas holidays, his use of social media, who he spent time with, and how he obtained a gun license, weapons and ammunition.
But the lone gunman is not the only one in the frame — the commission wants to get to the bottom of who knew about him, or who ought to have known about him.
Officers from New Zealand — and possibly Australian intelligence agencies — will be thoroughly questioned and their "tradecraft" examined. That is why the inquiry doors will be closed.
"The matters the inquiry is charged with investigating directly concern the operational practices of relevant state sector agencies, including intelligence and security agencies, which are and must remain confidential in the public interest in order to ensure public safety," a document released by the commission read.
In other words, the commission does not want the public to find out how people are monitored, or in this case, may not have been monitored very well at all.
The commission said it also plans to hold meetings with and seek evidence from the Muslim community in New Zealand, which will also be done in private.
It has started setting up a Muslim Community Reference Group, but the group will only provide advice, not have any decision-making powers.
Will the public ever be told what the Royal Commission finds?
Chairman Sir William Young, commission member Jacqui Caine and their team of officers have been given eight months and a budget of $8.2 million to try to get to the bottom of all this.
They must hand a report to New Zealand's Governor-General on December 10, which in turn will be given to the Government.
It's then up to the Government to decide whether any of the report should be made public.
In the meantime, the commission's website says updates will be released online regularly, members of the public can send in written submissions and public hearings "may" be set up.
Chairman Young is promising his team will be "meticulous in our approach to asking hard questions and seeking relevant evidence".
"New Zealanders, including Muslim communities, rightly expect assurances state sector agencies are doing all they should, to ensure the public's safety and protection," he said.
"This is a task of the utmost gravity, which will be based on fairness and impartiality and trust and confidence."
There is also one other key reason to keep things under wraps — the commission does not want to prejudice the Australian man's criminal proceedings, which are underway in New Zealand's High Court.