Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

'Battle hardened' Cantabrians protest

Photo / Kurt Bayer
Photo / Kurt Bayer

Hundreds of "battle hardened'' Cantabrians have turned out tonight to protest again the Government's proposed schools shake-up.

The protesters descended on the Bridge of Remembrance in the eerie half-demolished central city to voice concerns over last week's Ministry of Education plans to axe or merge 31 schools.

They are also dismayed at the decision to delay Environment Canterbury (ECan) elections till 2016, and at a believed loss of democracy in the troubled city, organisers of the Suffrage Day protest rally say.

A petition entitled `Vote Canterbury Kids' circulated through the boisterous placard-waving crowd and had attracted more than 600 signatures.

"These communities are not battle weary, rather the last two years has made them battle hardened,'' Labour MP for Wigram Megan Woods said today.

"They are not going to take these assaults on their communities without a fight.''

Parents are protesting, holding public meetings, lobbying MPs and signing petitions over the Government's proposed $1 billion changes to the educational landscape in Christchurch.

There has been widespread panic and confusion over the announcement that 31 schools face closure or merger.

The Ministry of Education backtracked on the afternoon of its announcement; stressing they were only proposals and not firm plans.

Many protesters on a clear evening are wearing white camellia flowers, releasing white, purple and green balloons and waving placards emblazoned with slogans like "Not too shaken to vote'' and "Bring back democracy and dignity''.

University of Canterbury political science lecturer Bronwyn Hayward, one of the rally organisers, said post-quake residents are dismayed that their democratic rights have been taken away from them by government.

She said it was appropriate to hold the protest to restore democracy on Suffrage Day, which has been celebrated in Christchurch since 1893.

"We're launching a campaign to rebuild suffrage in 100 days,'' she said ahead of tonight's rally, as the park beside the Bridge of Remembrance, and on the banks of the Avon River, started to fill up.

"We want the Government to step back and reconsider its decision to take democracy away from us.

"We want to rebuild our city but we want to do it with our own votes.''

Tonight's public rally was to hear from children of schools earmarked for closure or merger.

Speeches will also be given by Hayward, Port Hills Labour MP Ruth Dyson, city councillor Glenn Livingstone, and others before a giant petition is rolled out.

The rally will end with Kate Sheppard white camellias being thrown into the river.

- APNZ

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