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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kopu Bridge - A bridge too far for Key's mining ambitions

"Is this the kind of tyre kicking John had in mind?"
Let it be remembered that once again Coromandel Watchdog have stopped the mining trucks in their tracks. The battle began in August 2009 with the Government's announcement of a stocktake of the resources under conservation land and ended with the humiliating Tuesday surrender as "Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee .. confirmed the Government's complete retreat from proposals to allow mineral exploration on 7068ha of protected conservation land on Great Barrier Island, the Coromandel Peninsula, and Paparoa National Park, because of strong public opposition."

The 11 month struggle over some of New Zealand's most iconic conservation land was undoubtedly a victory for people power. Coromandel Watchdog society spokesperson Denis Tegg said, "Twice now we have squared off with not only the government, but also the powerful mining industry lobby and have won both times. Over 3,500 submissions were initiated through our website, many with heart-felt personal comments. Countless thousands of written submissions were also sent in by our supporters. In coalition with Greenpeace, Forest and Bird and other NGO's, we galvanised the largest protest march in decades, and mounted an impressive media campaign which kept the issue front and centre stage for weeks."

"The good news is that the government's review has re-energised our group. We now have thousands of committed supporters who will staunchly oppose any mining activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, whether it is on Schedule 4 land or other conservation land."

Anyone who attempted to make a crossing of the Kopu Bridge this summer will attest to that. The enduring symbol of the campaign will no doubt be the super-march up Queen Street but the real backbone of the campaign came from the dozens of volunteers that the Coromandel Watchdog Society and 2precious2mine coalition mobilised to leaflet the thousands of holidaymakers heading to and from the Coromandel Peninsula this summer.

Under a blazing sun when most people were on the way to the beach, their activists tirelessly strided up and down the lines of stationary cars waiting at the one lane Kopu Bridge dishing out leaflets by the dump truck load to ensure that Brownlee and Key's convoys of mining equipment wouldn't ever make the same journey. Key (or Goff) shouldn't doubt that they've created their own worst enemy in the shape of a determined environmental movement.

In the end it was massive popular education and mobilisation that won the day as Key found himself walking into the minefield of lost causes with continued support for mining. Perhaps someone reminded Key of Jenny Shipley losing the '99 election over among other issues -genetic engineering and native logging. Key probably didn't want to go the way of Shipley who in the year of the election would have public opinion turn so much against her that a “Sink the Ship” banner over the Mt Vic. tunnel to the airport in Wellington was talked about on the radio for days.

Or maybe Key was reminded of the massive eco-victory over Genetic Engineering when even though Labour put a moratorium on commercial release of GE resistance continued to flare with the destruction of 1,300 potato plants in the dead of the night in 2002 at Lincoln, by saboteurs who have never been apprehended.In 2001 a scientist undertaking GE research had his car damaged and his family threatened and in the same year Molotov cocktails were thrown at AgResearch's Ruakura Research Centre by campaigners, causing a grassfire.As the moratorium expired in 2003, Greenpeace and other activist groups continued to challenge the Government with direct action protest including a “tent city” on the lawn of Parliament in Wellington and also with protest marches on Queen Street, Auckland in 2001, 2002 and 2003. As a leading Greenpeace activist noted years later, “We still don’t have commercial release of GE crops in New Zealand. And that’s like how many years later? I think that was a successful campaign”. Losing political and popular support over an issue you can't win probably didn't appeal to Key in the way it did to Clark and the fifth Labour Government

So chalk another one up for the environmental activists of New Zealand. The Kopu Bridge leafleter can take their place in history next to the Lincoln crop puller and the banner hangers of Mt. Vic. Kopu bridge was a bridge too far for Key and Brownlee's plans to "surgically" fuck up the conservation estate. In the end the environmental movement won because it showed that it could kick more tyres in one summer than Key ever could.

The struggle continues...
Photo credit, John Darroch.

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