Law won’t be changed for mosque shooting witnesses to get ACC, Andrew Little says

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Nearly two years on from the Christchurch mosque attacks witnesses to the massacre say they feel forgotten.

Abdul Aziz, witness of Linwood mosque shooting

Mosque attack witness Abdul Aziz says some of the trauma from the shootings is just hitting witnesses now. File photo Photo: RNZ/ Conan Young

The government has just revealed its next steps in responding to the Royal Commission into the 15 March shootings which killed 51 people and injured 40.

Witness Abdul Aziz said he was traumatised from what he saw, and wanted to be helped as a victim.

“We are struggling because … everything is hitting us right now. I mean, after the incident it takes time … trauma is hitting us now. The symptoms, we can feel them now. We are getting short tempers, headaches, nightmares. All these things are starting now.

“We got help from a psychologist and I went a couple of times but the problem for me was it didn’t work that good because… I was getting worse than getting better … that’s why I decided to not go ahead anymore.

“The government, I would like them to recognise us as [victims] as well.”

While witnesses to the attack are excluded from receiving Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) assistance for their trauma, the royal commission report recommended that the government should direct the ACC to support them.

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Lead coordination minister for the government’s response to the royal commission Andrew Little told Morning Report changes had not been made to ACC to provide support for witnesses- “and we don’t intend to at this point”.

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Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

“In terms of other support given to all the victims, the families of those who were killed, those who were injured and those who were witnesses, there is a variety of support that has been in place. One of the things that we have undertaken to do is set up what is called the Collective Impact Board. That is a group from the muslim community. They will come together to oversee all of the government agencies who are there to support the community.”

Asked specifically about the support for witnesses, and why a recommendation from the royal commission on that had not been implemented, Little said: “What became apparent … was that the support that was available in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack had dissipated throughout last year, largely because of Covid.

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“But we are seeking to reinstate that, and the purpose of the Collective Impact Board is precisely to make sure those supports … are available for an ongoing period of time.”

“The thing about ACC is the government does not get to instruct the ACC to do whatever it likes, the ACC is subject to its statute and its legal framework. If we want to change the law then there’s a debate about that.”

But he said it was correct that witnesses did not qualify for ACC.

“Witnesses don’t easily fall into the regime that ACC is there to deal with which is physical injury by accident.”

The government would not be changing that, Little said.

“We don’t have the power to instruct ACC to do something that is not within their legal mandate. We will continue to provide support … if we change the law, we change the law for everyone for all time … we have not undertaken to change the law.”

But there had been psychosocial support for those who had been witnesses, he said. The Collective Impact Board would ensure that continued to be available.

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Easy access to video ‘horrific’

Meanwhile, a research analyst with the US-based Counter Extremism Project, Joshua Fisher-Birch, says it is disturbing how easy it is to find the mosque shooting video online.

The footage, found by using an alternative search engine to Google, has been viewed 128,000 times.

It is banned in New Zealand and those watching or sharing it can face jail time.

Fisher-Birch said it is one thing to find the video on the dark web, but quite another for it to appear through the simple use of a search engine.

“That is absolutely horrific… There’s been a massive, massive effort to try and prevent this video from proliferating around the world and I think it’s very important that tech companies decide which side of that fight they want to be on.”

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