Sir Geoffrey Palmer calls on Nelson City Council to drop City Amenity Bylaw
A former prime minister has called on the Nelson City Council to withdraw a draft bylaw that would require a permit to protest, saying it threatens "the rights and freedoms of New Zealanders".
Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a Nelson ratepayer and former prime minister, has filed a written submission outlining several issues with the council's proposed City Amenity Bylaw.
The draft bylaw was also the focus of a protest, attended by about 150 people, at Nelson's 1903 Square on Saturday morning.
The protest was directed most specifically at a proposal that would require people to apply to the council for a permit to protest. The clause would target longstanding activist Lewis Stanton who has occupied several sites in the central city over many years as a form of protest against the council.
The council says the bylaw is intended to "protect, promote and maintain public health and safety and amenity" in the city centre.
Sir Geoffrey's submission says the proposed bylaw contains material that is "overly broad and uncertain in application", particularly in relation to human rights.
He says the council has "no doubt" been frustrated by Stanton's unwavering protest, but the bylaw was unlikely to solve that issue.
"Nelson risks bringing upon itself widespread criticism that will generate adverse publicity if it decides to deal with these issues in such an indiscriminate fashion," Sir Geoffrey writes.
"The history of freedom has many examples of people who may be unusual, hold different views from the majority and whose behaviours are not popular. Such people, however, should not become the object of majority tyranny."
Sir Geoffrey says the draft bylaw likely breaches the New Zealand Bill of Rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement.
He called on the council to withdraw the draft bylaw and design a "much tighter and more specific" one that won't so easily be struck down by the Bill of Rights.
Protest organiser Graeme O'Brien said the protest clause in the bylaw was an "outstanding example of underhanded and manipulated process ... in a free and democratic society".
He said Nelson should adopt a similar policy to Wellington where protesters were encouraged to notify the council, but there was no requirement for a permit.
Nelson lawyer Steven Zindel said he was "amazed at how vague and general" the draft bylaw was beyond the issue of protest permits.
"Once you start regulating and providing rules then they get misinterpreted, or zealous officials decide to use them in a way to suit anybody who they want to target as an outcast of society. That old expression of, 'First they came for the Catholics and then they came for me' is very much true."
He said the draft bylaw was "technically faulty" and ripe for legal challenge.
"I just despair that a democratic organisation like the council would just rush through legislation like this without any checks and balances. It's a very poor quality draft legislation at this point."
Speakers said the proposed bylaw could have restricted the likes of the 1981 Springbok Tour protest and the women's suffrage movement.
He said Lewis Stanton was "the canary in coalmine" for human rights in the city.
He said the bylaw was potentially dangerous.
"You could easily have a sit where an unpopular protest could be delayed or deferred to the point where the issue has passed."
The draft bylaw went out for public consultation last month. Protest attendees were encouraged to make a submission.
Submissions close on Monday. A public hearing will be held on June 21.