SOP to Petrobras is law-making at its worst

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?

10 thoughts on “SOP to Petrobras is law-making at its worst

  1. I think that is a great idea. Any action is better than none.

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  2. Gareth, it does not take away their right to protest. It takes away their capacity to disrupt.

    The disruptive protests last time showed the law needed tightening.

    “Energy Minister Simon Bridges says the Government will introduce two new offences to stop a repeat of the April 2011 protest by Greenpeace that disrupted Brazilian company Petrobras’ seismic testing off East Cape.
    The company was planning to conduct testing for oil sediments in the Raukumara Basin after buying a five-year permit to explore the area in 2010. Swimmers from a protest flotilla of five vessels entered the water and diverted the oil survey ship off-course”

    They are free to protest, but not disrupt others from going about their legal business. They chose to do so, so the law is tightened to help prevent it happening again.

    You need to be able to separate your cause from the principle of law. If you think it’s fine to disrupt legal activity just because you, personally, don’t like it, then what happens if someone else takes a personal dislike to, say, windmills, wave research, solar panels, native forests, Maori meeting houses, or Parliament?

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  3. It should be thrown out completely, Gareth. Let the companies and protesters fight it out under current laws. It’s absolutely crazy to write laws specific to an industry and to the detriment of those seeking to protect the environment for everyone’s benefit.

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  4. I think it is an appaling breach of process to not have this amendment go through select committee. As you have pointed out the wording has holes in it big enough to drive a truck through.
    Why is it (it seems) that whenever amendments are tacked on or rushed through that they turn out to be bad legislation with uninteneded consequences?

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  5. This law has been passed without public input..we all know why!! Agree, any action better than none…and totally agree, what exactly is “interferring”-too broad and loose for bully tactics.

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  6. In no time there will be martial law for NZ? White terror is already here (do you hear how scared most public servants are nowadays fearing losing their jobs if they were seen/caught at petition sign-up or protest against any govt’s wrong doings…
    Not mention Big Brother is watching us…it will only get worse after Key’s loyal friend becomes Spy head…
    I never thought NZ would have become such country

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  7. Hello Gareth,

    Thank-you for introducing me to the term: Supplementary Order Paper. Doesn’t this prevent democracy?

    I think your efforts could also be diverted to creating an online social media campaign highlighting what is happening, partner with the media who loves these stories, and organise a boat to go out to the Petrobas boat, and generate a live web cam feed. Offer to invite the Captain on board to peacefully discuss climate change and peak oil.

    You have a big tool called Social Media, and a large population base who love to protect the environment. Time to start maximising its value.

    Kia kaha,

    Thomas

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  8. Paul: because when they’re not rushed through, people have already spent time stretching and folding them, to try and work out where the bad pockets are, before they see the glare of publicity.

    Arana: they will complain, and if the complaining is ineffective, they may protest. Should the conditions for legal protest, and the penalties for illegal protest be consistent, across the land and sea, and across protests against different activities?

    Gareth, here’s a slogan that you might like, about the Anadarko drilling block in Cook Strait: some of you, from your homes, will be able to see the clean-up on both sides of the Strait.

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  9. Arana: they will complain, and if the complaining is ineffective, they may protest. Should the conditions for legal protest, and the penalties for illegal protest be consistent, across the land and sea, and across protests against different activities?

    I have no problem with protest. I have problem with any protest that stops people going about their legal business. If protest stops people going about their legal business, but the law is too weak or vague in that area i.e. swimming in front of a boat – they I want the law tightened.

    You either believe in property rights, or you don’t. It protects a company as much as it protects the local Marae.

    If you don’t, then you won’t mind if I take your house.

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  10. > You either believe in property rights, or you don’t. It protects a company as much as it protects the local Marae.
    >
    > If you don’t, then you won’t mind if I take your house.

    If I’m doing something about which you’re willing to go to jail, then you may well come and attempt to take my house. I’d just like consistency in the rules about the various things that you might come and attempt to take.

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