As prime minister I have overarching responsibility for New Zealand's national security. That covers a wide range of threats and risks, from earthquakes to espionage, and cyber-attacks to conflicts between states. It is about protecting our way of life and the values that shape our society.
The government takes its national security obligations very seriously. We have an obligation to ensure New Zealanders are safe at home or abroad. We have an obligation to maintain the integrity of our democratic system, our institutions, and the systems and processes of government. We have an obligation to secure our sea, air and electronic lines of transport and communication into and out of New Zealand. We decide who comes here and on what conditions, and we decide who can make use of our resources.
We have an obligation to support stability in our region --in the Pacific, the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean. And we have an obligation to support stability and the rule of law internationally.
New Zealand is known for its integrity, reliability and independence, and I am very grateful for the endorsement we received from the international community in our recent election to the United Nations Security Council. Given the nature of national security, I do not give many speeches about it. But I want New Zealanders to know about how our risk and threat profile is changing, the challenges we face, and how the government is responding to them.
Much of that is due to the rapid rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS. Over the last two years the Sunni extremist group has seized substantial territory in northern Iraq and northern Syria. It claims to be the leader of the entire Muslim world and has decreed borders between Islamic countries to be invalid. New Zealanders will have seen the brutal and distressing methods ISIS uses, including beheading displays and mass killings. These deserve the strongest condemnation.
ISIS's ability to motivate Islamist radicals, as well as its growth, ambition, resources and methods, make it a brutal threat, not only to stability in the Middle East, but regionally and locally too. ISIS is well-funded and highly skilled at using the internet to propagate extremist material and gain recruits. It has amassed financial resources by seizing banks and oil resources, effectively taxing controlled areas, kidnapping for ransom, and drawing upon an international financing network. It is widely regarded as the richest terrorist entity in history. It is estimated ISIS has around 12,000 to 15,000 foreign terrorist fighters, of which as many as 3000 hold Western passports from a range of countries.
The rise of such a well-resourced, globally focused terrorist entity, highly skilled in recruitment techniques utilising social media, is a game changer for New Zealand. I do not want to overstate the risks, but they are real and we should not shy away from acknowledging the facts. ISIS exposes us to a type of threat that we lack both the legislative tools and resources to combat.
We need to have both a short-term strategy, designed to deal with the immediate threat to our national security, and a longer-term strategy, designed to deal with the root causes of extremism. I intend to outline, as clinically and clearly as I can, the nature of the immediate threat to national security.
As in other Western countries, ISIS has been successful in recruiting New Zealanders to its cause. Government agencies have a watch list of between 30 and 40 people of concern in the foreign fighter context. These are people in or from New Zealand who are, in various ways, participating in extremist behaviour. Some of those on the watch list have travelled to Syria to engage in fighting and remain there. Others are ISIS supporters who have tried to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight, and who have been prevented from leaving by cancellation of their passports. Some are people involved in funding terrorism, people who are trying to radicalise others, and people who themselves are becoming radicalised and interested in fighting for ISIS.
While what I can say is necessarily of a limited nature, it is important to note that there are individuals here who are attracted...