In a late amendment to oil and gas legislation, Energy Minister Simon Bridges is proposing tougher penalties and hefty fines to prevent activists from interfering with the lucrative oil industry.
In April 2011, a flotilla of activists jumped into the ocean in front of a Petrobras oil survey ship off the North Island's East Cape. The Brazilian oil giant later pulled out of NZ and, while the govt concedes that's not because of the protest, it's now planning harsh penalties to try to prevent similar "unsafe" protests.
Bridges: "We don't think it's about legitimate rights to protest, in this instance. It's actually about dangerous, reckless behaviour, which should be seen as criminal." It'll introduce changes to the Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill, with a new offence of intentional damage to and interference with mining structures and vessels, and interference with their activities. This will carry a penalty of up to a year's jail; or a fine of up to $50,000 (individuals) or up to $100,000 (a body corporate). A second crime of contravening a notified minimum non-interference distance of up to 500m will carry a fine of up to $10,000. Police and Defence Force personnel will also get additional powers to board vessels and detain or arrest protesters.
But Greenpeace is crying foul, saying the govt is trying to scare away legitimate democratic protests.
Greenpeace's Steve Abel: "It's about the govt saying 'yes' to the foreign oil industry and 'no' to NZers who don't want a Gulf of Mexico oil disaster."
Bridges says there are safer ways for protestors to voice their concerns: "People can protest outside businesses, you can do it anywhere in NZ - actually you can still do it in the Exclusive Economic Zone - but where you can't is out in these rough choppy seas, as we've seen protesters do in relation to Petrobras."
Greenpeace maintains it should have the right to protest in any way it wants.
The bill was reported back to parliament by a select committee earlier this month...meaning The Great Unwashed Voting Public don't get any say on the amendments before the legislation passes.