I’m sure that when the Government first developed its plan to “unlock” for mining conservation areas currently protected by Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, it anticipated that the plan would be opposed by conservationists and trendy lefties. But – the Government would have reasoned – such people don’t vote National anyway. What an unwelcome surprise it must have been for them, then, to see poll results showing their mining plans to be opposed by a good chunk of their supporters. That surprise has been compounded in the various protest activities to date by the genuine cross-section of society, including traditional National voters, willing to take a stand against their plans.
Saturday’s march in Invercargill in opposition to the Government’s mining plans was highly significant. More than 400 people took part – the largest number on an Invercargill march, at least in the last 20 years, and in temperatures of 5 or 6 degrees. That such a number would come out on a wintry Saturday afternoon tells the Government a couple of things. First, the heat and strength of the opposition to mining conservation land will not dissipate as it had hoped. The enviroment and conservation movements are rediscovering the direct action knowledge and skills that had grown a little rusty, and the protests will grow in size and vigour rather than diminish.
Secondly, while it’s all very well to get record numbers of people onto the streets in Auckland or Nelson, say, to do so in Invercargill will shake the Government’s confidence even more. In advancing their plans they have made a major miscalculation, and have made unwarranted assumptions about the kinds of people who live in rural and provincial New Zealand. Far from the acquiescent drones, grateful for any jobs or economic activity, that John Key assumed, Southlanders and other rural New Zealanders actually care passionately about protecting the special places like Rakiura (Stewart Island) that they love. In fact some Southlanders, like those from Nightcaps, know only too well the hellish deal that mining usually offers a community: jobs in return for environmental cost and compromised health, with all the profit going somewhere else.
It was a great privilege to be able to speak at the rally, alongside former Invercargill MP Lesley Soper, Shortland Street actor (and local) Bonnie Soper and local environmental hero (and occasional Frogblog correspondent!) Robert Guyton. It was also good to be part of an event that had been so well-organised, by Dave Kennedy and others. I particularly liked the fact that the first part of the march was silent, but for amplified recordings of bird calls – an emphatic statement of our love for these places and our implacable opposition to their desecration.