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October 9, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Weapons Forum to be Met with Protests

The New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA) is holding the controversial Defence Industry and National Security Forum from October 10–11 in Wellington, which will be met with protest from activist group Peace Action Wellington.

Peace Action Wellington lodged a petition with the Wellington City Council (WCC) and the Greater Wellington Regional Council prior to the event, calling for the “Weapons Expo” to be banned from the Wellington region. The event is scheduled to be held at Westpac Stadium, which is not Council-owned.

In previous years, the event has been held at WCC venues such as TSB Bank Arena and Te Papa Tongarewa. After significant public pressure by Peace Action Wellington and its supporters, WCC Mayor Justin Lester has banned the forum from being hosted at WCC venues.

Lester told Salient, “I don’t think it’s appropriate given the process that has occurred in the past, and we have asked them to host the event in another venue.”

Chairman of the NZDIA board, Scott Arrell, told Salient that the decision by the NZDIA to change venues was made independently and was due to security concerns.

Peace Action Wellington plan to blockade the event, stopping “business as usual” by actively preventing people or goods from getting into the building. They will be joined by People Against Prisons Aotearoa, Palestine Solidarity Network, Unions Wellington, and several other groups.

Peace Action Wellington spokesperson Jesse Dennis told Salient that they do not believe that the NZDIA “should have the social license to operate in Wellington,” as it “exists as lobbying conference for the weapons trade.”

“We basically think that nobody should profit from war, and this conference is the face of war here in Wellington.”

Arrell told Salient that the event was simply an opportunity for those in the defence services industry to come together with those involved in the New Zealand National Security System to “keep in touch.”

Arrell disagreed with the language of Peace Action Wellington, telling Salient,“that is quite provocative language, it’s not a ‘Weapon’s Expo’, it’s not an arms exposition.”

The forum “simply allows companies that contract or provide services to the New Zealand Defence Force and to other national security agencies to come together, network, and talk about recent trends, much like any other organisations have annual conferences.”

However, in a statement released on October 3, Peace Action Wellington stated that “in 2015, then Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee claimed that there were nothing more deadly than socks and paper cups on display. Socks and cups aren’t killing people in Yemen, Syria, and Palestine, but the weaponry sold at this expo is.”

The event is sponsored by international defence contractor Lockheed Martin — the largest weapons producer worldwide. Lockheed Martin also manufactures nuclear weapons, which, according to Peace Action Wellington, clashes with Wellington’s status as a nuclear free city.

Dennis said Peace Action Wellington were pleased with Lester’s decision to bar the event from Council venues, but considered that “anyone with event venues in Wellington should stand and say that no one should be able to profit from war.”

Peace Action Wellington have been in discussions  with WCC over the last few weeks about options to make this policy permanent.

Despite the planned protests, Arrell said the NZDIA “didn’t see any reason why the forum might not go smoothly.”

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