Proposed new offences could mean harsher penalties for protesters who interfere with offshore petroleum and minerals exploration.

If passed into law, the changes to the Crown Minerals Bill would help protect "legitimate exploration", Minister of Energy and Resources Simon Bridges told TV One's Q+A programme yesterday.

The first offence would stop deep sea protesters "from doing dangerous acts, damaging and interfering with legitimate business interests with ships", he said. This could result in 12 months' jail or a $50,000 to $100,000 fine depending on whether it was for an individual or body corporate.

A lesser offence for entering a specified area, probably within 500m of a ship, would carry a fine up to $10,000.


The offences would apply within New Zealand's exclusive economic zone - the fourth largest in the world at more than four million sq km.

"This is not about stopping legitimate democratic protest. There are a range of ways people can protest - at a company's front door, on the street, actually still out at sea."

He denied the offences were aimed at Greenpeace protesters, who have targeted ships in New Zealand waters. Mr Bridges said he supported people's right to protest: "I would never want to stop that, but what they can't do is dangerously, recklessly interfere with other people's rights to go about their business".

There was huge potential for New Zealand's underexplored petroleum and minerals. The Crown received millions of dollars a year from minerals royalties, which paid for services such as schools, hospitals, roads and broadband.

With a 50 per cent increase in royalties and tax, that would increase to $12.5 billion a year, he said.

Labour's energy and resources spokeswoman, Moana Mackey, said the move was a serious over-reaction "and yet another example of National kowtowing to foreign multi-national companies".

"Protesters take to the sea when they feel that they can't get action through any other means, whether it be anti-whaling, anti-nuclear, or opposing deep sea oil drilling."