Richard Moore: John Key should take tip from Napoleon's fate

By Richard Moore

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One of the world's greatest political and military leaders, France's Napoleon Bonaparte, once said: "Public opinion is the thermometer a monarch should constantly consult."

Bonaparte emerged from the chaos of the French Revolution and became emperor, knowing his survival and success depended upon having the majority of the French people with him. He managed to do so for the best part of two decades, against almost all of the major empires of Europe.

In the end he was undone by believing his own legend and not bothering to listen to people.

Prime Minister John Key may want to take note as, in his Government's second term, we have seen a steady rise of arrogance in many of the decisions being made.

Whether it be asset sales, bigger class sizes or school closures, this Government ignores public opinion - and sometimes good sense, as in the Dotcom debacle - and acts before thinking.

"We know what's best" is the attitude and, when even 80 per cent of people here oppose something, Key and Co just steam on ahead regardless.

By not consulting - or listening - the Government too often discovers it hasn't made the right decision and is forced into backtracking, usually with egg all over its face.

When people oppose a so-called "reform" they cop either a dismissive aside at a press conference or a bit of verbal biffo stating they don't know what they are on about.

Now the Government is moving into dangerous uncharted waters with an attack on our very right to protest.

Under proposed amendments to the Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill, it will be a criminal act to peacefully protest at sea.

If you disagree with deep sea oil drilling off New Zealand's coast and take to a boat to try to disrupt the exploration by getting within 500m of an oil industry vessel, you face being hammered with fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail.

I suspect the Government is furious about the Greenpeace operation off East Cape when Brazilian oil company PetroBras was sniffing about.

The disruptive protests were not officially blamed but the Brazilians backed off from further exploration.

That decision was a godsend, considering how dangerous deep-sea drilling is to the environment, but it doesn't stop the Government panting around for new drillers like a dog on heat.

Events in the Gulf of Mexico showed just what can happen when a deep oil rig malfunctions.

With all the money in the world - and just off the US coast - the environmental damage was catastrophic.

Imagine what would happen down this way.

There is no plan and no budget to clean up a massive oil spill - as the Rena's small spill proved to Bay of Plenty residents.

The Government sees drilling as a financial boon, but won't protect our seas against a disaster because that isn't the New Zealand way. No, far better to let something happen and then panic about fixing it afterwards.

Imagine the economic damage that would be done if an oil spill ruined commercial fishing and tourism down the length of the North Island's east coast.

That would make the potential earnings from oil royalties look small by comparison.

New Zealand's clean green image would all of a sudden become a "100 per cent Pure - Apart from the Huge Black Sticky Areas" campaign.

I'm appalled a right-wing Government is trying to curb individuals' rights.

That is normally the domain of Nanny State Lefties. But on this issue I'll stand shoulder to shoulder with those hairy Kumbaya-singing, chardonnay-sipping, leather-thonged muesli-munching pinkos and say: "No, John Key, you overstep the line by thinking you can stop my peaceful protest."

And to bring in the military to deal with protesters - as the navy will be forced to do - will pit those sailors and officers against people they are sworn to protect.

New Zealand's military should not be forced to side against its own people on a political matter.

I don't even think that in the dark days of the Springbok Tour did New Zealand's military seize members of the public - even those unpeacefully protesting.

You are at a crossroads, Prime Minister, and if you choose to continue down the wrong path on deep-sea drilling protests, middle New Zealand will turn the other way, and away from you.

richard@richardmoore.com

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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