Anti-protest laws: a long history and more to come

Anadarko

The 'Anadarko Amendment' is just one of a long history of repressive laws, and more will follow this one.

There has been vocal widespread opposition to the introduction of penalties to specifically criminalise protests against oil and gas installations at sea. These penalties are to be included in the Crown Minerals Act, as the so-called 'Anadarko Amendment' at the behest of the industry. Anadarko is the Texas-based oil company recently awarded permits off the Wellington and Taranaki coasts.

Anadarko was a quarter owner of the Deep Water Horizon rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and spilling 200 million gallons of oil. The company has settled its portion of legal liability paying BP some $4 billion.

Over the past week, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition against the new law including David Williams, QC an long-time human rights advocate who called the law 'fascist'.

Penalties include individual fines of up to $50,000 and a term of imprisonment of up to two years for interfering with a vessel involved in off-shore oil drilling. The full Supplementary order paper is here.

Greenpeace has responded with a legal opinion that this law is in contravention of international law, specifically, the law of the sea, and violates the NZ Bill of Rights. Read the legal opinion here.

There is every likelihood that this bill will pass with the usual support from United Future and ACT.

A long history

New Zealand has a long history of repressive legislation to stifle protest and criminalise dissent. Arguably, the first piece of such legislation was the Suppression of Rebellion Act 1863 aimed squarely at Maori trying to retain their lands, customs and laws. This law made possible the huge seizure of land under the New Zealand Settlements Act from those deemed 'in rebellion'.

The class agitation and the First World War were also the precursors for more political repression: sedition for resisting conscription, and censorship laws (that extended beyond the 1951 Waterfront Lockout).

The Public Safety Conservation Act 1932 was described as “potentially the most dangerous and repressive piece of legislation on the New Zealand statute books” at the time enabled the Governor General to declare a state of National Emergency whenever “the public safety or public order is or is likely to be imperilled.” This power was first used at the outbreak of the Second World War, and was used aggressively during the 1951 waterfront dispute. [1]

The 1951 Watersiders lockout engendered its own legislative response. "The government issued drastic emergency regulations, giving it the power to seize union funds, use the armed forces to replace strikers, and prohibit strike meetings or publications. Supporters of the wharfies were even forbidden to write favourably about the strike or give food to strikers’ children." [2]

The whole raft of post-9/11 laws passed in New Zealand have sent a chill up and down the spines of dissidents; the Terrorism Suppression Act and its aborted sister, the Counter-Terrorism Bill (that was never passed in its entirety, but rather broken up into amendments to six existing acts to diffuse opposition) have seen real expression in the Urewera case.

More laws to come

The lesson of the past is that it shall repeat itself. And if we look to the United States we can foretell what sort of legislation will be coming this way. In recent days, states across the US have passed 'Ag-Gag' bills that criminalize undercover investigators who film animal welfare abuses on factory farms and slaughterhouses (and some bills, like Indiana and North Carolina, also include fracking, mining, and other industries). [3]

Like the 'Anadarko Amendment' these laws have been passed at the behest of industry - and in many cases, they have actually been written by the industry concerned. A major industry lobby group in the United States originally proposed that activists who engage in this sort of whistleblowing would be registered as 'terrorists'.

While the 'terrorist' label has not stuck in the legislation, the laws are being passed across the US in order to protect cruel and destructive industries from exposure.

The animal rights movement has been very successful at exposes conducted here; and while the changes to laws and regulations have been slow, they have certainly been pushed along by these discomforting videos of disgusting conditions and out-and-out abuse.

The growing anti-drilling, anti-fracking movement across the country is increasingly trying to hold not only corporate beneficiaries but local government bodies to account for their actions. In Taranaki, the South Taranaki Regional Council has already declared the Official Information Act requests of several local people as 'nuisances' and decided simply to ignore or circumvent their legal responsibilities to respond to them.

In coming days, we can expect more of the 'Anadarko Amendments' to be introduced. It is likely that these would cover not only agriculture, but mining, oil and gas drilling and other dangerous or extractive industries.

There are few protections for whistleblowers and activists exposing abuses of power in New Zealand other than public support. Given that the role of major corporations in crafting legislation sympathetic to them is seriously ramping up, there is an urgent need for an aggressive and uncompromising response to this most recent attack on dissent.


[1]http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/document/35921/public-safety-conservation-act-repeal-act-1987
[2]http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/strikes-and-labour-disputes/page-7
[3]http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/north-carolina-ag-gag-whistleblower-law/6851/#more-6851

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