Gareth Hughes

SOP to Petrobras is law-making at its worst

by Gareth Hughes

Simon Bridges’ amendment to the Crown Minerals Act criminalising protest activity at sea has just been tabled in Parliament and is an unneeded overreaction that takes away Kiwis right to protest.

The so-called ‘Petrobras Amendment’ establishes new laws to deal with protests in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ):

  • Up to one year prison term or $50,000 fine for people who damage or interfere with mining structures or vessels (fine of $100,000 for organisations).
  • Up to $10,000 fine for breaching no-go zones of up to 500m around mining vessels
  • Police and Defence Force get new powers to board ships, arrest and detain protesters.

It is law making at its worst. By introducing it as a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) amendment instead of contained in the original bill, it avoids having any hearing at Select Committee or public input and completely avoids having a Bill of Rights Act compliance analysis. A Select Committee process involving submitters and legal experts helps anticipate tricky questions and clarify the intent of the proposed law and should have been used. I think for example there is a legitimate question about what exactly constitutes ‘interference’? Would a light projection on the side of a drillship for example land an activist in the brig facing up to one year in jail?

This SOP targets only one activity – oil drilling, setting it up as a special case with its own legal protections which opens up the Government to allegations it’s a law written by and for a specific industry. I for one think it’s clearly a SOP to Petrobras. One has to ask why on earth these proposals are being included in the Crown Minerals Act, which deals primarily with minerals programmes, mining permits and land access, and not in the more appropriate criminal statute. Because it is creating a standalone offence against protesting mining in the EEZ we now have the odd situation where under s11 of the Summary Offences Act (1981) person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $2,000 who intentionally damages property on land but up to one year prison term or $50,000 fine for people who damage property belonging to oil drilling companies at sea. New Zealand isn’t a petro-state and doesn’t need one law for oil companies and another for everyone else.

Lastly the SOP extends Police powers such as arrest and detention to the NZ Navy, which blurs the important civilian/military domestic criminal enforcement boundary. Empowering and using the military to arrest New Zealanders should only be used sparingly and in exceptional circumstances and I don’t believe peaceful protest should be that threshold. I still think it was outrageous the Navy was called out over the Petrobras protests in 2011 and the NZ Navy shouldn’t be used as private oil security.

All in all, it’s a very bad amendment that ultimately avoids the most important question facing the Government: if they are so concerned about ‘dangerous and reckless’ activity at sea, why aren’t they prohibiting dangerous deep sea oil drilling which they can’t guarantee won’t leak and cause a spill?

I’m going to seek leave in the House next week to try and return this to Select Committee so that it can have a fair hearing there and the public can have a say. What do you think?

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Wed, April 3rd, 2013   

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