Dunedin mayor proposes Occupy protest deal

By Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times

The Occupy Dunedin group has been living in tents in central Dunedin's Octagon. Photo / Otago Daily Times
The Occupy Dunedin group has been living in tents in central Dunedin's Octagon. Photo / Otago Daily Times

A deal that could allow Occupy Dunedin protesters to remain in the Octagon indefinitely aims to avoid a costly court battle or violent confrontation, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says.

A letter from Mr Cull proposing a compromise was delivered to anti-greed protesters camping in the Octagon yesterday.

It offered a deal that would see most of the encampment's tents removed, but one symbolic tent and an information kiosk allowed to remain in the Octagon - together with any protesters who wished - on a "long-term'' basis.

Protesters said nobody on site could speak for the group.

The offer was discussed at tonight's "general assembly'' at the camp, but protester Kieren Trass said afterwards more discussions would be needed over the next few nights before any decision could be made.

"There's a lot of people that aren't here tonight,'' he said.

Mr Cull said he remained confident the council's legal position was a strong one, but wanted to avoid the time and cost involved in fighting the matter through the courts.

He also wanted to avoid the violent clashes between police and protesters seen in Australia and the United States in recent days, as other occupations associated with the global movement were broken up.

"I don't know what it would come to, but I wouldn't like to be responsible for putting it there ... I want to take all measures possible to find a solution before going to that extent,'' Mr Cull said.

The move came two days after council staff issued protesters with trespass notices on Tuesday, warning they were in breach of council bylaws and setting an 8pm deadline to quit their encampment.

The protesters ignored the demand and have refused to budge, while police were still considering their legal position yesterday before deciding whether to act.

Protesters argued the Bill of Rights allowed them to occupy the Octagon in a peaceful protest, while the council argued it provided only for "lawful'' protests - not ones that broke council bylaws.

Mr Cull said the council was interested only in maintaining the integrity of its own bylaws, which preventing camping in the area, and access to the Octagon for the rest of the community.

If the deal was accepted, the exact location of the tent and information kiosk would be negotiated, he said.

Allowing one tent to remain was a symbolic gesture to the protesters' occupation, which he hoped would "satisfy their need for profile and publicity''.

Both the tent and kiosk could continue to be manned by "quite a few people'' each day if the protesters wished, but it "would be better'' if they didn't camp overnight, although that was also negotiable, Mr Cull said.

No deadline for a response had been set, but it was hoped a deal would allow the upper Octagon to be used for Remembrance Day events on November 11, Mr Cull said.

The wider issue of whether the Bill of Rights "gazumps'' council bylaws would eventually be tested in the courts, and it remained possible police would decide to remove the encampment, he said.

- Otago Daily Times

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