Editorial: A right to protest

Last updated 09:24 21/01/2013

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Voltaire said it best: "I disagree with everything you say, but I would fight to the death for your right to say it." It's an apt saying for Marlborough after last weekend's annual Waihopai spy base protest by Christchurch-based protesters from the Anti-Bases Campaign.

The Government Security Communications Bureau's electronic monitoring station in Marlborough provides employment for several, and a source of pride for others. The distinctive two domes protecting the radio antennae and other satellite equipment is a feature of note to point out to visitors, and one that many look out for as they fly in to Blenheim airport.

The role the spy base may play in the international intelligence network, dubbed Echelon, is not readily apparent to us here in Marlborough. The information it gathers may well be passed on by our government to others in the United States and Britain to use, and could have played a part in the United States war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a good summer, war-torn countries seem a long way away and concerns about the base's activities seem rather distant. However, this year is a bit different.

The ongoing saga with German man and new Kiwi resident Kim Dotcom and the startling admission by the Government and GCSB that the bureau illegally spied on Mr Dotcom is worrying for all New Zealanders.

It is a slippery slope, particularly in a time of increased terrorism where the authorities are keen to act first and ask questions later.

As misguided as the Anti-Bases Campaigners may seem at times, the role they carry out in calling the authorities to account is an important one and should be tolerated, even if not encouraged.

The protests have been held each year since the base opened in 1987. The police may well be tired of standing out in open fields near the base, while the protests go on, but it was unfortunate one officer heightened the tension on Saturday by threatening to issue infringement notices to people parked alongside the road outside the base during the protest.

Like many rural roads in Marlborough, there are ditches on the side of that road, and no footpaths. It was hard to park anywhere else.

Both the authorities and the protesters have a responsibility to use common sense to ensure cool heads prevail in such confrontational circumstances.

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- The Marlborough Express


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