Protests against spy bill

Palmerston North people were among the thousands making a public stand in the name of privacy, opposed to the Government's spying bill.

Marches, rallies and protests took place in 11 towns and cities across the country on Saturday with vocal opponents, such as internet millionaire Kim Dotcom, speaking to the crowds on the controversial topic of covert surveillance.

About 150 people gathered in The Square, Palmerston North, for a peaceful protest voicing public outrage at the Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill, which will expand the legal power of the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders.

Protest organiser Teanau Tuiono, aka "the Palmy panther", said it was shocking the organisation tasked with keeping an eye on foreign threats to New Zealand had been spying on Kiwis - as highlighted in the review of the GCSB by senior public servant Rebecca Kitteridge. She found 88 instances where the spy agency appeared to have undertaken illegal surveillance on New Zealand citizens.

"We're standing in solidarity . . . This is a really important moment in New Zealand's history where we look at what democracy means," Mr Tuiono said.

Trade unionist Dion Martin said the Government may not be listening, "but by God they will be watching, watching us standing up and fighting back".

"The Government is saying we have to counter the extremists in our midst who can be homegrown and that's largely a result of alienated people radicalised by others with influence and hate for the state.

"Well I say the best way to counter any such alienation in the community isn't to spend millions following our every single move, but to work towards a more equal society where a truly free education and health system, combined with a fairer distribution of wages can provide a more inclusive society."

Mana Party representative Peter Wheeler said: "What he [John Key] wants to do with this bill is legalise the illegal and he has to do it, because it's the first fumbling step to dictatorship. The people who hold power need to be held responsible, not to themselves, but to everybody else and that's democracy."

Green Party representative Neil Miller said a large amount of legislation had been passed under pressure and New Zealand was gradually losing the right to the freedom of expression and the protection of property.

Palmerston North retiree Clement Pinto said it was about taking a stand for the next generation.

"The very powerful people in the Government, in the industries, in the military and in the spying agencies, they are trying to curtail our hard-won freedom and democracy.

"I have no problem with the government having surveillance with proper warrants and for the people under suspicion, but a blanket confiscation of all your data, your email, your cellphone, without your permission and without you being aware, whether you are guilty or not, this is wrong."

Nick Simmons, of Levin, said a unified response should send a strong message to political leaders.

"It means a lot to me, it means a lot to them and it means a lot to the whole of New Zealand, even if they don't know it yet."

Speaking in Seoul, Prime Minister John Key said the protests were part of a "healthy democracy".

"I do think it's really important that people understand what's in the legislation because with the greatest of respect, you know, some people really say things about the law that is not true.

"I accept there will always be some who feel a bit nervous about privacy and their own rights but I can give them the best assurance I can that we're very careful and cautious about what we do as a state, but in the end we do have to protect the interests of New Zealanders."

Mr Key earlier said the law change was necessary.

After weeks of controversy he has now secured the numbers to pass the bill after agreeing to a series of changes which have won the support of UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne.

Assault on democracy, P8

Manawatu Standard