Maritime protest law deja vu?

In 2013 the Government introduced to Parliament the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill. This was passed into law 61-60 after fierce debate in Parliament. It was made worse though by the Minister in charge of the Bill not allowing it to be sent before the Human Rights Select Committee for vetting. Nor was it allowed to receive public submissions. Now as new legislation goes before the House of Representatives, it is appropriate to look at the controversial legislation of 2013.

Aside from effectively criminalizing peaceful protest at sea, the Crown Minerals Amendment Act 2013 also has clauses in it that weaken the ability of any defendants before a court of law to defend themselves. The following made the C.M.A.A., 2013 controversial by the last minute inclusion of provisions that made it possible for the Royal New Zealand Navy to act as an arresting force; for enabling the arrest of a person without warrant by enforcement officers. These can be seen below. Most notably, subsection 3 of Clause 101B (Interference with structure or operation in offshore area), which reads:

In prosecuting an offence against subsection (2), it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the person intended to commit the offence.

Another aggravating feature is subsection 1(e) of Clause 101C (Powers of enforcement officers) which states thus:

Without warrant, arrest a person;

The other aggravating feature is Subsection 6(b), which states thus:

(6)For the purposes of this section, the following persons are enforcement officers:

  • (a)every constable:

  • (b)every person in command of a ship of the New Zealand Defence Force:

  • (c)every person acting under the command of a person described in paragraph (b).

This law was heavily criticized by Greenpeace, Amnesty International, notable lawyers including former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and various others. The Human Rights Commission, after the examination of a complaint I made about the legislation agreed that on the surface there was indeed a violation of my/our human right to peaceful protest at sea.

Fast forward to 2016. The Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill sits before Parliament, which Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Murray McCully is in charge of. To his credit this Bill does not appear to be getting rushed through Parliament under urgency, unlike the legislation forced through by Mr Bridges was. That does not make it a good Bill though – merely one being run by a Minister showing greater regard for democratic process.

Jonathan Orpin of the Law Society of New Zealand has appeared before the Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee to register his organizations opposition to the new legislation. Mr Orpin said in a congested maritime environment that contrary to the definition of the Bill a ship that finds itself in front of an oncoming ship carrying out approved activities might not be there intentionally, thereby not committing a terrorist offence.

Although this Act initially passed with unanimous support in Parliament this was just so that it could be put out for public submissions. These have now closed. Labour and the Greens require a more specific definition of the term terrorist/terrorist act under the legislation. Unless it can be demonstrated the ship or protesters at sea were going to use deliberate violence or damage as a means of stopping an activity of a political nature, it should be charged as a criminal offence.

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