The government of New Zealand will be establishing the Centre of Research Excellence on social cohesion and countering violent extremism as a response to the growing threat of violent extremism.


Newsroom New Zealand reported that the New Zealand government will be providing updates on said centre this October as part of the progress being made in response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 Christchurch terror attack.


The Royal Commission found New Zealand needed “to develop its own evidence-based solutions to prevent and counter extremism, violent extremism and terrorism, built on lessons from global experience”. The commission said a specific government research institute might take too long to set up and be too expensive, but the Government has decided to go ahead with the proposal anyway.


The establishment of the centre was planned during the New Zealnd Government’s counter-terrorism gathering in May 2021. A concept document released to The Newsroom under the Official Information Act shows that, ahead of the hui, the Government was envisaging a fully virtual research institute.


“While there are a variety of options for the centre’s operating model, during initial discussions we have received strong encouragement from a wide range of academics not to invest in ‘bricks and mortar’ but to establish a virtual centre,” the briefing, delivered to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her capacity as the Minister for National Security and Intelligence, said.


“This would mean most of the available funding would be directed towards directly supporting research and delivering on the centre’s various outcomes.”


The intended outcomes included New Zealand developing and maintaining “a strong breadth and depth of expertise in preventing and countering violent extremism, based on Te Tiriti as a foundation and Te Ao Māori approaches where appropriate”. The policy approach to countering extremism was “informed by a strong body of evidence-based research, with international best practice translated into a New Zealand context”.


The briefing also expected that the research centre would lead to a “better-informed public” and foster “strong partnerships between researchers, civil society, and government [to] enable a collective, collaborative approach to preventing and countering violent extremism”. As the centre’s work became more high-profile, it would allow New Zealand to contribute knowledge beyond its borders.


The centre will also be tasked with leading the annual counter-terrorism hui alongside the Government and will chair a new Advisory Group on Counter-Terrorism to provide advice to the Government.


A spokesperson for the National Security Group in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said that the centre will no longer be entirely virtual.


“At this stage it is envisaged that the centre will be a ‘hybrid’ centre that is run by a director and programme manager out of a New Zealand-based university or research institute, in collaboration with other universities and organisations,” they said.


“The Centre of Excellence will bring together research organisations and institutes, civil society, organisations, and government to research preventing and countering violent extremism, with a focus on understanding diversity and promoting social cohesion. This will help inform public discussion on preventing and countering violent extremism, and guide the work of policy agencies across government.”


Alongside hiring a director, the next steps include setting the terms of reference for the centre’s governance board, establishing that board by the end of the year and launching a master’s scholarship programme.


The centre is expected to cost $500,000 to set up and $500,000 a year to operate.


To note, in March 15, 2019, two (2) consecutive mass shootings at mosques in New Zealand transpired which killed 51 people and injured 40 others. Said incident was perpetrated by Australian national Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a white supremacist and terrorist.