Port crackdown risks a mighty backlash

18:49, Feb 20 2013

Adversity can create odd bedfellows. As our editorial yesterday described, the campaign against the Government's plan for partial asset sales has made unlikely compadres of Grey Power, the Council of Trade Unions, Labour and the Greens.

But there is a similarly unusual partnership a little closer to home in the fight to protect the future of a much-loved beach and well-used coastal infrastructure.

Port Taranaki's management probably felt they were on firm ground when they replied to an invitation for a victim impact statement ahead of the sentencing of the Greenpeace activists who breached the facility's security last year to board the Noble Discoverer.

Even though Lucy Lawless and her colleagues forced their way through a fence and then talked their way aboard the ship, the report indicated port management might see the need to broaden the security net and possibly restrict use of much- loved Ngamotu Beach and the lee breakwater, rather than simply undertake to tighten lax security protocols.

That has inspired anger towards the port, as well as the offending activists, who were duly sentenced and dealt with by the courts.

Some readers see a land grab by stealth, in that port officials are using this latest infringement by protesters as a means to acquire land that it has long desired as part of any expansion of the port operation.


Greenpeace itself has raised such a scenario. Campaign director Carmen Gravatt, in an opinion piece in this paper on Tuesday, said the activists entered the port through a gate on the other side of the property, hundreds of metres away from the beach.

Still, many people continue to blame the campaigners for any threat to the beach, and have ample evidence for doing so.

But oddly enough, those who rail against the actions of Lawless and her cohorts have also become unwitting accomplices and supporters of the cause. And that is potentially bad news for the port. Whether it is because of ideological opposition to the oil and gas industry or concerns over access to the only truly family-safe beach in the city, neither the activists nor those who find themselves opposed to their actions want the expansion of the port's operation.

To both sets of agitators any port expansion and the attendant widening of its security net represents an undermining of lifestyle and liberty and an unsustainable risk to the environment.

If port officials thought they had found an easy enemy and thus a reliable ally, then they have another think coming.

Not only must they devise a strategy to mitigate the risk of attention from activists, they must also find a way to do so without inspiring the ire of the environmentalists' unexpected ally, and one that poses an even greater potential threat. A wary, suspicious public ready to react in a way that will make famed warrior princess Xena seem like a shy, innocent wallflower.

Taranaki Daily News