11 Apr 2013

Opposition attacks mining protest proposals

9:52 am on 11 April 2013

MPs have had their first chance to debate a controversial proposal to crack down on anti-mining protests at sea.

Parliament on Wednesday night debated a late amendment to the Crown Minerals Bill that makes it an offence to interfere with or damage ships or structures used in offshore mining operations.

The Labour and the Green parties said the proposals are an overreaction and will undermine the ability of local people to protest against mining in their communities.

Green Party MP and veteran protester Catherine Delahunty said it can be extremely dangerous if the rules are not fair to everybody.

But Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges says the change is simply about stopping criminal damage, not lawful protest.

Mr Bridges told the House that Labour and the Greens don't care about other people's rights, but business people in this country have rights too.

A group of prominent New Zealanders including the former president of the Law Commission, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, have said the amendment is a breach of international law and attacks democratic freedoms.

They say a legal opinion they have obtained shows the proposals may breach the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson told Parliament on Wednesday they have got it wrong because the proposed changes relate only to damage or interference, not protest.

The amendment passed by 61 votes to 59, with the support of National, ACT and United Future.

The bill is still being debated in its committee stages.