21 Apr 2021

'No military payloads': Rocket Lab accused of breaking promise to Māhia locals

11:17 am on 21 April 2021

Controversy is brewing over Rocket Lab's work at Māhia Peninsula in the Hawke's Bay.

A protest group is installing billboards around Mahia and Wairoa against Rocket Lab.

A protest group is installing billboards around Māhia and Wairoa against Rocket Lab. Photo: Supplied

Rocket Lab has been celebrated for its Kiwi ingenuity but it seems to have burned off support among Māhia locals.

They are angry at the use of military payloads and accuse the company of breaking its promise.

But Wairoa Mayor Craig Little supports the rocket company.

Billboards have gone up around the tiny settlement saying: "No military payloads. Haere Atu (go away) Rocket Lab".

Watchdog group Rocket Lab Monitor organiser Sonya Smith of Ngāti Rakaipaaka hapū said the lack of transparency was worrying.

"The consent process seemed to have had what you call a red carpet treatment compared to maybe other consents and other companies, and just generally a discontent amongst hāpu and iwi about, I guess, an arrogance and foregone conclusion and they could do what they wanted when they wanted," Smith said.

The community was promised the facility would not be used for military purposes, she said.

"We were sold a bit of a story, it seemed like a good story, it was exciting, it was entrepreneurial, it talked about satellite launches that supported environmental outcomes and safety outcomes and that's not really how it's played out."

Green Party security and intelligence spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said Rocket Lab and the government had missed the mark on honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

He, along with fellow Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere, went to visit the Māhia community recently.

"People spoke to us around concerns of, around the impacts of mahinga kai and pātaka kai, the impacts on the environment and then there were also concerns about access as well, being able to access things like urupā and wāhi tapu," Tuiono said.

Green Party MP and spokesperson for education Teanau Tuiono at Waitangi 5 February 2021.

Green Party security and intelligence spokesperson Teanau Tuiono. Photo: RNZ / Jogai Bhatt

The Green Party wanted change, he said.

"We want military connections, launches, to stop. I think the way that this whole thing has developed, it started off as one thing and next thing you know, it became another thing."

However, Wairoa mayor Craig Little was full of praise for Rocket Lab and its founder Peter Beck.

"Thank God the technology that Peter Beck has is on this side of the fence and not the other side," Little said.

"He's doing things that other countries can't even dream of doing with his rockets. He's an incredible guy and I think there's been a lot of unfair misinformation out there on what's happening."

Rocket Lab had benefited the community, he said.

"It's been great to put on the map for them, and I'm sure once Rocket Lab, and they are starting to make a lot of money, I'm sure they'll start investing a lot more into the community."

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Concerns should be addressed to the government, he said.

"The government makes the decisions on what can go up in the Rocket Lab, so don't give Rocket Lab a serve, if you're really concerned and everyone has a right to their opinions, talk to the government about it."

Rocket Lab was not available for an interview.

In a statement, a spokesperson said all the payloads launched from New Zealand had met the stringent government requirements.

It recently held a hui with local iwi, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine.

"Contact details for our team are provided at these meetings, and in addition, we encourage people to get in touch with Rocket Lab via an 0800 number and email address which is available on posters and signage throughout Māhia, as well as on our website," the statement read.

"Separate to these meetings, we regularly invite community members with questions or concerns to contact us, meet our team and visit our facilities, including the launch site.

"With regard to military payloads specifically, Rocket Lab communicates about the dual-use nature of defence technology and the fact that many of the space-based applications relied on by consumers today are funded and operated by the defence sector, including systems like GPS (Global Positioning System), which is operated by the US Air Force."

Rocket Lab did not respond to RNZ's question about whether it had broken a promise to the Māhia community.

Minister for Economic and Regional Development Stuart Nash, who is also the MP for the area, signs off on space launches.

"I would not approve any payload if we assessed it would contribute to a nuclear weapons programme. This is consistent with our domestic and international legal obligations, as well as our proud and firm history of being nuclear-free," he said in a statement.

"Any payload launch must align with New Zealand's values and interests."

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