Yesterday, about 300 people marched from Civic Square to parliament on the anniversary of the BP oil spill, to protest deep sea drilling off New Zealand's East Cape. Then they marched back around the waterfront, which is where I met them. The pavement on the waterfront was scrawled with messages of support. There were high fives and 'kia ora' all round.
Last year, our government awarded Brazilian company Petrobras the rights to exploratory drilling in New Zealand waters for 5 years. This year, they turned up to start drilling. Objectors, made up mostly of environmental activists and iwi, mounted a protest that involved swimming in front of the boats, which effectively halted operations and led the government to consider using the military against its own citizens to stop the protests.
So why are they protesting?
Well, the environmentalists are protesting because of the risks associated with deep sea drilling. New Zealand is not equipped to cope with an oil accident on any major scale, and the fact that the company is foreign-owned means that while they might bear the financial cost of an accident, New Zealand would bear the environmental cost. If you widen your scope a little, there's a moral objection to the reliance on fossil fuels as well.
Iwi are objecting because the waters off East Cape are their ancestral fishing grounds, and they don't want deep sea drilling happening on their turf. See those red-and-black flags up there? For those not from New Zealand, that is the tino rangatiratanga flag, representing the Treaty of Waitangi sanctioned right of Maori in New Zealand to sovereignty of their own lands.
Iwi claim they were not consulted about the granting of drilling rights to Petrobras. Opposers of the protest claim they were. I don't actually know whether consultation took place but given other things that have happened in government lately (read: filesharing bill, CERA, GST hikes lalala) I can believe that any consultation that happened was a) cursory and b) largely ignored in the decision. That is speculation on my part but it does demonstrate how little faith I have that our government is considering its people in its decisions.
Now where it gets interesting for me is in the context of other law changes that have happened recently, namely the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act and implementation of the Takutai Moana Act. Under the FSA, the seabed in question belonged to the Crown. Therefore under that Act the government could legally grant rights to Petrobras for deep sea drilling. However, the Act has never been a good piece of legislation and was seriously in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. The current government, in one of the few moves they've made that I support, repealed that Act and replaced it with the Takutai Moana Act* which provides Maori with channels to prove ancestral title to areas of the seabed under common law dating back centuries. It's known as 'native title'. Having title to this territory grants the owners the right to prevent such activities as those of Petrobras.
This Bill was going through parliamentary process when the government sold the rights to Petrobras. The government knew that once the Takutai Moana Bill went through, Maori would begin to claim title to parts of the seabed, and they probably had some idea that Te Whānau-ā-Apanui (the main iwi concerned with East Cape drilling) would not allow Petrobras to drill in their territory. They also knew that the Takutai Moana Act has provisions to maintain the property rights of those with existing interests in various bits of seabed.
So the fact that the government sold these rights to foreign owners before the Bill went through is, to my mind, no coincidence. I think Maori are pissed off for a very good reason, and that all Kiwis should get in behind them and let our leaders know that this kind of dodgy dealing is bloody well not on.
And yes, I see the connection between the TPPA and this. Brazil is not a partner in the TPPA, however the whole principle of so-called 'free trade' is about encouraging foreign investors to take an interest in New Zealand. Thing is, if Petrobras do find oil off our coast, what will they do with it? Who will they employ to extract it? Us? Or their own experts? Depending on who you talk to, up to 96% of any money made off Petrobras' activities in New Zealand will go to Brazil, not us. Yet we take the environmental risk and crap on our indigenous people in the process. All in the name of the very foreign investment that the TPPA is made to facilitate. What reason is there to believe that any other deals our government makes with foreign corporates will be better for us?
More information on deep sea drilling in NZ here. NB - this is an anti-drilling site. Sorry, that's the side I'm on.
* There are other problems with the Takutai Moana Act that make it still not ideal for Maori, but it's an improvement on the wholesale stealing that the Foreshore and Seabed Act was.
There was a marshmallow bunny on my desk this morning. I eated it.
Also, four days off! Wheeeeeee!