Solid Energy, endangered snails and the corporate paparazzi
On Monday I joined around 25 others in a protest outside Solid Energy's Christchurch office calling on the Government and Solid Energy to halt plans to mine Happy Valley on the West Coast, a development that will destroy the habitat of an endangered giant land snail Powelliphanta ‘Augustus’. Happy Valley is also home for a large population of spotted kiwi.
I also went along to express my disgust at the intimidatory tactics of Solid Energy towards opponents of the development, tactics that have included using a security company to take uninvited video footage of a tramping group legally on Department of Conservation land.
I got to the action around 15 minutes late, and began to stand on the grass verge of the footpath and greet a few people I knew. I was barely off the footpath, and at least a good three metres away from the boundary of Solid Energy's headquarters, a boundary I had shown any no interest in crossing, and had only began to talk to a couple of people when a security guard approached.
"Would you like to read a statement from Solid Energy?"
I turned around to face the security guard, only to find another security guard standing behind him with a video camera aimed at my face. I immediately told them I had no wish to be filmed and turned my back to the guards. If Solid Energy had handed out a statement outlining their point of view and politely informing people where boundary was, this would have been a reasonable response to the action, but no, Solid Energy decided to be duplicitous and unreasonable.
Asking people to 'read' their statement was a pure pretence to capture people on film. Any foot powered member of the public who showed any interest in what was going on was subjected to the same treatment. Intimidation appeared to be the main aim of the game.
I informed the Press photographer what was happening and he took a photo as they approached someone else.
This is not the first time. Around a month ago Save Happy Valley campaigners led a tramping group of 33, included children and overseas visitors on an education trip to see the valley. Around dinner time, Gibson security burst into their campsite and filmed the group against their express wishes.
Who are they trying to be? The corporate paparazzi?
Solid Energy are attempting to push the mining development ahead with all possible speed. While Solid Energy previously accepted it required ministerial consent to move the snails by hand, the company sought to make use of what it saw as a loophole in the Wildlife Act, and move the snails with a digger, without any such consent. Thankfully the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society successfully challenged Solid Energy's dodgy legal interpretation in the High Court. On Friday the High Court called a spade a spade, and told Solid Energy they needed consent to move the snails, no matter how they went about moving them.
This is hardly the sort of behaviour one would expect from a State Owned Enterprise, so I wondered what the State Owned Enterprise (SOE) Act would have to say about Solid Energy's antics. While the Act defines the primary objective of SOEs is to "operate as a sucessful business" the Act also requires Solid Energy to be a "good employer" and be,
"An organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so." (Section 4(1)(c))
How on earth is attempting to take advantage of a loophole in the Wildlife Act, in order to destroy the only remaining habitat of a endangered species an action of a socially responsible SOE? A parliamentary question would be useful here - it would be very interesting to get the view of the minister on the actions of Solid Energy in regards to their responsibilities under the SOE Act.
How on earth are Solid Energy demonstrating "regard for the interests of the community" or being at all accommodating to the community by hiring bullish security guards to intimidate members of the public with video cameras?
The protest was good natured and made its point. We got a lot of toots from passing motorists, and the Christmas theme made people smile. If Solid Energy regard elves doing cartwheels on a public footpath to be a threat to their interests, then I suspect they are going to have a very paranoid Christmas.