Wānaka Sun       

Fossil fuel conference meets the resistance

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 03 Oct, 2019 | By Abby Costen newsdesk@thewanakasun.co.nz

A small but close knit, vocal group travelled over from Wānaka to join Queenstown members of Extinction Rebellion; they were joined with several other climate justice groups from around New Zealand to protest against ‘New Zealand's premier and largest upstream gas and oil event'.

“[We wanted] to show PEPANZ they need to make changes much quicker than they are, if they want to stay in the energy market. Given the small amount of time we had, we consider the action a great success,” said ER organiser, Anna Simmonds. 

The 2019 New Zealand Petroleum Conference took place at the Millenium Hotel in Queenstown from September 29 to October 1. 

The annual event brings together government officials, industry leaders, international experts, regulators and service providers.

The counter-conference involved a vibrant roadside demonstration displaying creative signs, music, chants and speeches including a loud audio playing of teen activist Greta Thunberg's emotional speech to the UN.

“We're here today just to stand up to this industry and say enough is enough. Business as usual is over. We want renewable energy. It's 2019 this is no longer acceptable. Their social license has expired.” said protestor Jack Brazil of Environmental Justice Ōtepoti. “We've got OMV inside who are planning to drill in Taranaki and the Great South Basin. And they are one of the 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of emissions.”

Brazil added, “Even last year 200,000 dollars of taxpayer money was spent policing the event. Effectively the police were working as private security for a multi-trillion-dollar industry, so it's pretty shameful they were hoisting that expense onto the public. We've always been peaceful, we've always been nonviolent, so I'm not sure why the police are here.”

Area commander of Otago Lakes Central, Inspector Olaf Jensen, said, “The role of police is to ensure safety and uphold the law, while recognising the lawful right to protest. The actions of police are always dictated by the situation presented to us. I can confirm police spoke to the protest group about damage caused to a hotel window yesterday morning.”

PEPANZ, the industry association of the upstream oil and gas sector, is the organiser of the petroleum conference, and its chief executive Cameron Madgwick contacted The Wānaka Sun to express his support of the right to protest.

Madgwick also believed it “good news” that demonstrators did not try to prevent the conference coming together, which he said showed its participants “share some views with the protestors”. 

However, Simmonds said, “I am disappointed in the Wānaka Ward councillors who did not even reply to invitations to attend the protest and to write to the organisers of the conference to express their displeasure. Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull's response to the Minerals Forum in Dunedin shows a different approach is possible, and I'm hopeful the day those who want to keep their seat at the table are brave enough to speak out with real honesty is nearing ever closer. And that those of us in community recognise how important it is to support candidates who have the courage to look beyond the next election cycle.”

Protester Jillian Sullivan experienced a range of responses from drivers by over the course of the day, including a bus driver swearing at her with her grandchildren present. 

“I'm amazed at how rude some people were. But most people were smiling, honking, giving waves, one bus driver even lifted his cap to us⁠—that was awesome.” said Sullivan. 

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