Freedom on the Seas – A gift from your friendly Government

When the Government announced it would need to uphold public safety during the upcoming International Naval Review, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was talking about wearing life jackets. But actually, the Government is applying restrictions that stop people boating and even swimming in parts of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour for twelve days.

Yesterday the Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, issued a Press Release that had direct foreign policy implications.

What he said he was doing was declaring the International Naval Review marking the RNZ Navy’s 75th Anniversary to be a ‘Major Maritime Event’ under the 1994 Maritime Transport Act 1994 (section 200 A (3.d) to be precise…).

As a result of the ministerial decision, “vessels not participating in the Naval Review will be required to stay clear of restricted zones in the Waitemata Harbour, Rangitoto Channel and sections of the Inner Hauraki Gulf.”

In addition, a 12-knot speed restriction will be in place in the Auckland Harbour, and “diving or swimming within the permit area will be prohibited”.

Passing strange.

Especially when you track down the relevant Gazette Notice and find that this was actually published back on 18 August.  And any written comments in response were to be in by 29 August. But the Minister issued the media release, yesterday. Yes, yesterday, 28 October.

Setting that procedural nicety aside, there are a few other quirks to the decision. Namely:

  1. The stated intent is to “ensure the safety of everyone on the water, including people who are not part of the event”.  Translated: those wishing to peacefully register their opposition to the presence of foreign warships in our waters cannot get close to the foreign visitors.  This is for safety.  The supreme irony is that, when US warships were visiting in the 1970s, nuclear-armed, no such safety restrictions were in place; and Kiwis could, and did, front up close and personal, without harming a soul. Now that we are assured by the Prime Minister that none is nuclear-armed, now that the US-NZ defence relationship is as ‘good as it ever has been’, we celebrate our shared values by curbing the UN human rights principle of freedom of assembly.
  2. The entire period of the Event is 10-22 November. But the fleet entry is on the 17th. The International Review itself is on the 19th and their departure is on the 22nd. Yet the restriction is for the entire 12-day period.  Can’t be too careful when it comes to personal safety.
  3. On that safety note, damn, there is another quirk. Under Condition 8 of the Restriction, no person may “jump, dive or swim from any wharf or structure within the permit area, other than for the purposes of saving another person’s life or unless authorised by the harbourmaster or a member of the New Zealand Police holding the powers of a constable.” So, if you accidentally fall from a wharf during the 12-day period, and no one around happens to be drowning, you are not to swim, including to shore, unless and until and harbour master or constable permits.  Just tread water, and smile.

How easily they forget.

Kennedy Graham Green MP
Dr Kennedy Graham, Green Party MP