Drama on the high seas continues with news that the government has now dispatched the Navy, the Air Force and the Police in response to the protest action occurring in the Raukumara Basin.
It should concern us all that the government is willing to invoke the coercive powers of the state in response to a minor and non-violent protest. Such powers should only be invoked in exceptional circumstances. The protests occurring off the East Cape are not exceptional by any definition. The protestors have engaged the Petrobras ship on a number of occasions, however disruption only occurred on one occasion when a lone swimmer, yes a lone swimmer, disrupted the survey line. Do you think this warrants direct government intervention? The protestors do not pose a threat to the New Zealand people nor the integrity of the state. The rule of law is, as far as I can tell, not under threat. Having said that, arguably, the government is threatening the rule of law through the exercise of what appears to be arbitrary power. Another salient point is also made over at Pundit: that it is not the place of the executive government, read Cabinet, to dictate to the Police what, where and when they should investigate perceived offences. That is constitutionally repugnant and very dangerous in practise. The basic notion is that the law makers should have no role in law enforcement. The government, in seeking to prevent continued protest, not through legislation but through law enforcement, seriously oversteps the mark.
Ultimately, it is beyond reason that the government is invoking the full power of the state in response to a non-violent protest occurring extraterritorially. Proponents of liberty and freedom should be concerned.
What I also find interesting is that Petrobras has not lodged an official complaint with the police nor has the company requested government help. Intervention in the Raukumara Basin is a government initiative. Clearly the government feels the protestors pose a threat to government rule. Any protest action which undermines a lawful government enactment is a challenge to that government’s integrity and legitimacy. Given the authoritarian nature of the current government it should come as no surprise that they have, when threatened, responded with a show of force.
Without doubt the surveillance capabilities of the state have been activated. If the protests continue in to the medium term we can probably expect to see a repeat of the Urewera raids. Te Whanau a Apanui will not back down and the rhetoric will only harden. Of course Te Whanau a Apanui and Greenpeace will never turn to militancy, but the Police and SIS will construe some narrative indicating planned militant action.
What really gets me about this issue is that the government is putting the rights of foreign oil interests ahead of the rights of tangata whenua. This is not unexpected, but it was at least reasonable to expect a more equitable balance between the interests of tangata whenua and the interests of foreign corporates. Sadly, tanagata whenua have been disregarded – which is true to form really.
Greenpeace and Te Whanau a Apanui cannot allow the government to dictate the terms of this debate. Opposition cannot succeed without widespread popular and political support. I am unsure where the public stands on the issue at the moment, but Phil Goff, and by extension Labour, Winston Peters, the Greens and the Maori Party have indicated support for the protestors (yes, the Maori Party – mean). Now the protestors need plurality public support. Petrobras has deep pockets and long hands, they will throw everything they have at this. It will be a hard fight… but tino rangatiratanga never comes easy.