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April 9, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Clashes Between Protesters and Police at Petroleum Protest

A conference hosted by New Zealand’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Association (PEPANZ) from 26 to 28 March in Wellington has provoked protest and police action.

The annual conference is “New Zealand’s premier oil and gas event,” according to the New Zealand Petroleum Conference website, wherein delegates and industry officials “come together to celebrate our petroleum industry”.

A Rally for Climate Justice was held outside the TSB Bank Arena where the conference was held. Protesters tried to block delegates from entering the building and used a “noise blockade” to interrupt the conference because of limited access to interaction with conference attendees. Outside TSB Stadium and Shed 6 protesters banged on the walls, yelled, played music, and used musical instruments. The noise waxed and waned as protesters grew tired or as new ones came.

The main protest was held on 28 March, and saw around 200 people around the stadium at any given time from 5:00am. Representatives from the Anglican Diocese of Wellington, the environmentalist group 350 Aotearoa, and Oil Free Wellington were in attendance.

“Most of the protesters were polite and expressed their views peacefully but a small number were awful. Some delegates were shoved and personally abused but everyone made it inside and overall the protest didn’t cause any delays,” said Phil Rennie, Communications Manager for PEPANZ.

“The energy provided by oil and gas is fundamental to our society and way of life,” said Rennie. “The role of natural gas as a transition fuel has a crucial role to play. [More gas will] be a win-win for both the environment and economy. This is why we think it’s important we keep looking for and developing new resources here in New Zealand.”

Police formed lines to protect conference delegates. Four protesters were arrested, two for assaulting a police officer, one for obstructing public space, and one for a breach of the peace, said Inspector Brett Amas in a statement.  

“The role of police at these type of events is to ensure safety and uphold the law, while recognising the lawful right to protest,” said Amas.

Michelle Ducat, an organizer of the protest, and Teanau Tuiono, spokesperson, both said that they were “disappointed” at the force used by the police. “[The police’s] job is to protect everybody,” said Ducat.

According to a statement from Oil Free Wellington, one protester was concussed after being pushed by police.

“I was in a blockade, I was at the front of the line, [and] I was literally upside down, [the police] shoved me in the breasts and [it] really hurt, I got scratches on my chest,” said Sarah Atkinson, a Religious Studies and Development Studies student at Victoria University. “The police are very very violent.”

Most protesters believed that their actions would make a difference. “We were here at five in the morning, the idea was to block the doors and keep the delegates out,” said Tuiono. “We have managed to disrupt the narrative and interrupt what they would consider the inevitability of their economics.”

“I don’t know [if it’ll make a difference] but it’s the right thing to do,” said Rob Baigent-Richie, a part of the “SuperGrans” (i.e. anyone over 65) arm of the protest. He wanted his grandson to know that he took a stand.

The protest is part of wider conversation around sustainability. Jenny Easton, another SuperGran, said “It’s our generation which has helped cause this problem. These blimmin’ industrial people just want to do business as usual. I’ve come all the way from Nelson to tell them that.”

“I want a planet for my grandchildren that hasn’t warmed more than 1.5 degrees,” said Joanna Santa Barbara. Easton, Santa Barbara, and Baigent-Richie all held pictures of their grandchildren. “It’s a balance between not making [the younger generation] too fearful, but making them realise it’s important,” said Jenny.

“There’s no future in oil and gas,” said Atkinson. “[This whenua] has been raped […] by these rich oil fuckers.”

Tuiono had a different message. “Fight the power, kids!” he said, grinning hopefully.

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