Protester law avoids public submissions and Bill of Rights vetting

Simon Bridges. Photo / File
Simon Bridges. Photo / File

A law change to give the Defence Force powers to arrest and detain anti-mining protesters in the deep seas and impose stiff penalties on those protesters will not be subjected to the usual processes of public input or a Bill of Rights Act vet by the Attorney-General.

The changes, announced by Energy Minister Simon Bridges, mean protesters who intentionally damage or interfere with mining sites or vessels which are outside New Zealand's 12-mile territorial limit risk up to a year in prison, or fines of up to $50,000 for a person or $100,000 for an organisation.

The bill will also give police and Defence Force personnel power to board protesters' ships and arrest and detain them.

Defence personnel now have powers to arrest civilians only in limited circumstances, such as if it is required to suppress a riot.

The changes will be made as a late amendment to a Crown Minerals Bill so will not be considered by a select committee hearing where public submissions are made.

Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes has objected to the lack of public scrutiny for such a significant change and Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said it was far from ideal to increase powers of arrest with minimal process.

Although there may be legitimate health and safety reasons for the law change, there was a general principle that the military should not be given law enforcement powers.

He said this should happen only if offshore mining sites and vessels were in waters police lacked the ability to patrol.

Mr Hughes said there was also concern about what constituted "interfered" with mining structures or vessels, a phrase which could be interpreted very broadly and open up relatively peaceful protesters to arrest.

Mr Bridges said it was not unusual for the Defence Force to take on enforcement duties in the deep seas, saying they were authorised to act as fisheries officers and customs officials in some circumstances.

The decision to make the change without public scrutiny would be debated at length in Parliament by all parties.

The types of protest action that would fall within the new offences included both physically causing damage or impeding the mining vessel to a "criminal" extent, such as going directly in front of it.

He said the changes were to clarify the law following cases such as that of Tauranga fisherman Elvis Teddy who was arrested after protesting against a Petrobras vessel exploring the Raukumara Basin. The District Court dismissed the charges because it took place outside the 12-mile limit, but that decision was overturned by the High Court.

New laws for protesters

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.

Apply only to protests outside the 12-mile territorial limit.

Change will be made as an amendment to the Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill.

- NZ Herald

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