Private investigators in court over corporate spy scandal

February 21, 2008

Private investigation firm Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL) appeared before the Registrar of Private Investigators and Security Guards in the Christchurch District Court on Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st February.

TCIL faced allegations that they had breached the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act (The Act) which governs their conduct. The allegations refer to the engagement of Ryan Paterson-Rouse to infiltrate the Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC) and of Somali Young to infiltrate the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN) and Peace Action Wellington (PAW). Also in question was the legality of the placement of a spy camera on the road near the entrance to the Happy Valley occupation site in 2006, by TCIL.

SHVC, WARN and PAW complained to the registrar in June 2007, after Paterson-Rouse and Young were exposed as spies paid by TCIL to infiltrate activist groups and gather information. TCIL then passed that information on to companies that had hired it, including Solid Energy, and likely the NZ biotech industry and NZ Defence Industry Association.Despite being served with a subpoena and having flights from Wellington paid for, Somali Young did not appear in Court, and may be fined by the Registrar. On the stand, Gavin Clark declined to answer any questions relating to Somali, including whether he had ever met her. Despite objections from Frances Mountier (for SHVC) and Valerie Morse (for PAW), the Registrar refused to compel Clark to answer the questions. Clark claimed immunity from having to answer the questions due to the public interest, although Mountier and Morse both questioned whether this in fact had any basis in law whatsoever.

Spy Camera

In his submission to the Court, Clark acknowledged for the first time that the camera was in fact placed by TCIL. The act states that:

Every person, who, in the course of or in connection with the business of a private investigator, –

(a) Takes or causes to be taken, or uses or accepts for use, any photograph, cinematographic picture, or videotape recording of another person; or

(b) By any mechanical device records or causes to be recorded the voice or speech of another person, – without the prior consent in writing of that other person, commits and offence [against this act]

Clark claimed that the camera was placed in TCIL’s role as a security contractor to Solid Energy rather than as private investigators. In response, Mountier pointed out that it would defeat the purpose of the protections that The Act purports to afford if private investigators were able to break their governing legislation by claiming they were acting outside of their licensed role.

The Spies

The allegations concerning Paterson-Rouse and Young were that they had acted as private investigators without holding a valid license, which is an offence against The Act for both them and for TCIL, the private investigation firm that paid them. Gavin Clark claimed that Paterson-Rouse was never an employee of TCIL, but rather an informant paid as per the quality of information provided rather than any set rate.

In his evidence, Clark stated that he had been given a list of names and information of people in Christchurch, and of those names, he chose Paterson-Rouse as he felt he would be most likely to fit in with the other SHVC activists. He then contacted Paterson-Rouse and had a meal with him to further assess whether or not he would be able to carry out the infiltration of SHVC. Upon deciding that he would, Clark advised Paterson-Rouse to join, and the infiltration began. When asked if he still stood by his judgement that Paterson-Rouse was a good choice to infiltrate SHVC, Clark stated “Well, Ryan Paterson-Rouse’s behaviour is why I’m here talking about him today…”

Over the next 7 months, Paterson-Rouse was given a cellphone and paid over $3700 by TCIL for providing information. Clark stated that information sought included personal information such as where people lived and who they were in relationships with, in addition to people’s roles in SHVC and any special skills they might have, such as tree-climbing. At times, Paterson-Rouse’s pay was worked out at an hourly rate (or a daily rate during his three trips into the Happy Valley occupation).

One of the aspects of Paterson-Rouse’s information gathering was the automatic forwarding of all emails sent to him to Gavin Clark. Clark admitted to deleting all emails from Paterson-Rouse’s email account after the spying was exposed.

Clark also discussed the “monthly updates” which TCIL sends out to its clients, which were mentioned in a response to an Official Information Act request by Massey University, one of the recipients. Clark claimed the updates contained only information from “open sources”, which he defined as the internet and news media. This information would include news about protests and upcoming events organised by political activist groups, both in New Zealand and overseas.

Clark also acknowledged that he knew that the SHVC blockade of a coal train on April 29, 2007, was going to occur, and that he had travelled to Christchurch for it. He said he “may have” informed the police it was to occur, but did not confirm or deny when asked if he attended a police briefing on the protest at 8am, several hours before it began. The briefing had been revealed during the hearings of those convicted for the protest.

The bulk of what was in dispute between Morse and Mountier and TCIL in regard to Paterson-Rouse and Young was whether or not their work constituted employment by TCIL. In this, TCIL called private investigator and ex-Police officer Trevor Morley, who related his experience with both undercover agents and informants in both the Police and the private sector. They also submitted some case law from the Employment Court as to the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. Morse and Mountier argued that as both Paterson-Rouse and Young had been approached and offered regular payment to infiltrate and report information on specific political activist groups, had recieved instructions on what types of information to seek and had seemingly been paid hourly or daily rates, that the relationship between them and TCIL was indeed one of an employer and employee. They also made note that The Act makes no provision whatsoever for any difference between undercover agents and informants.

Decision reserved

After a day and a half in court, the Registrar reserved his decision. Morse and Mountier asked for the maximum penalty, which is the cancellation of TCIL’s private investigation licence.

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An SHVC activist’s sketch of Gavin Clark, drawn during court.


2007 – Indymedia Highlights

January 16, 2008

An Aotearoa Indymedia feature that I’ve been working on for a few days, and just finished…

European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, International Heliophysical year and Year of the Dolphin2007, what a year! Here are some of the stories that YOU published on your local Indymedia Centre in 2007. As always, the struggle continues! [ Highlights 2006 | 2005 ]

Your Aotearoa Indymedia Crew

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October 15th Raids
In a wave of massive state repression in Aotearoa / New Zealand, 300+ para-military police carried out dawn raids at houses around the country on Monday October 15th 2007, making 17 arrests. Search warrants were carried out in Auckland, Whakatane, Ruatoki, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington and in Christchurch in the South Island. The police wanted to charge 12 people under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA). A massive solidarity campaign formed around Aotearoa and the world to support the activists in jail and after almost 4 four weeks in jail, the Solicitor-General, David Collins, announced that he would not be granting permission to the police to lay charges under the TSA. Everybody got released on bail. However, 16 people – people from Tūhoe, Te Atiawa, Maniapoto, Pakeha; indigenous activists, anarchists, environmental and anti-war activists – are still facing charges under the Arms Act. More information: The Struggle continues… | October15thSolidarity.info | Te Mana Motuhake ō Tūhoe | State Repression in Aotearoa

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Tino Rangatiratanga – Tangata Whenua

In Janurary, Tūhoe set up a blockade at Paekoa Rd in Ruatoki. On Waitangi Day, the Tino Rangatiratanga did not fly on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. However, it flew around Aotearoa and the world (and in May was flying/jumping on/off the bridge). In April, Ngati Haua was occupying their ancestral Maunga Whakakoro in the far northto stop it from being alienated from the Hapu forever. Maori Revolutionary Syd Jackson died in September. Thousands of people attended his tangi in Hastings. Michael Cullen had to be protected from angry protesters after being verbally abused and jostled at Taemaro Bay in December. Ngati Aukiwa has been fighting for their land for years and oppose they oppose the Office of Treaty Settlements negotiations with the Ngatikahu ki Whangaroa Trust Board. In late December, activists started to gather in the Urewera to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the occupation at Waikaremoana.

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Pacific

In February, Australian composer Martin Wesley-Smith’s piece Papua Merdeka (Free Papua) was dropped from the Asia Pacfic Festival in Wellington after pressure from the Indonesian Embassy. May saw the relese of The Nu Face of Youth Rebellion, a film produced for Aotearoa Indymedia on the uprising in Tonga in late 2006. An Indonesian Military officer started a course in NZ in May, sparking protests from human rights activists. The same month, Auckland University students protested against a visit by former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas. Five Tongan People’s Representatives were charged with sedition in June. June also saw progress towardsa Free Trade Area of the Pacific. While the G8 met, the people of Tuvalu becamethe global face of climate change. As the Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory in Australia came under renewed attack, people mobilised to support them across Aotearoa – Resistance is Existence: Aotearoa stands in solidarity against Australian Racism, International Day of Action: Stop the Genocide on Stolen Aboriginal Land & “Stop the Genocide!” – Protests Across Aotearoa. Helen Clark visited Jakarta in July, and ignored the abuses taking place in West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian Government. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer came to Auckland to speak to the National Party in July, and was met with protests. August saw Fijian public sector workers on strike despite intimidation and death threats from the military government. Meanwhile, Indonesian Police used guns to threaten a West Papuan activist who toured Aotearoa in 2006. As the US-NZ Partnership Forum prepared to meet in Auckland, AIMC carried analysis of the effects of the policies it promotes in the Pacific.

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Animal Rights

Animal Liberationists were active early in 2007, while in February the Sea Shepherd confronted Japanese whalers. In March Animal rights activists prepared to protest against a meat conference, which took place in April. The Open Rescue Collective exposed a pit of chicken corpses with a live bird inside, while Auckland Animal Action protested against the start of duck hunting season in May. In June, an AAA activist was arrested for using a megaphone at an anti-fur protest. October saw a Christchurch Open Rescue group publicise their first rescue of battery hens.

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Workers Rights

In April, sacked hotel workers fought back, while the EPMU and Labour colluded to sell out Air NZ workers. May Day was celebrated across Aotearoa in May, and a Subway franchise was taught the power of worker solidarity. Meanwhile, Filipino unionist Dennis Maga went on a national speaking tour and Protests haunted the tour of Phillipines President Arroyo in June. The exploitation of migrant workers was exposed, while South Auckland hotel workers fought against poverty wages, a demonstration in support of Rainbows End workers was held and coal miners across Aotearoa went on strike all before the end of June. July saw 800 hospital cleaners locked out after strike action and Aotearoa Indymedia provided updates throughout the lockout – Day 5: 800 Pickets Resisting – Your Support Needed! & Day 6: “Give Spotless the Boot!”. In August Auckland hotel workers were locked out, while the year finished with Maritime workers taking the fight to gates of Port of Napier.

(Anti-)Patriarchy

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Convicted rapists Brad Schollum and Bob Shipton were found not guilty of raping another woman in March, with protests held across the country, and as International Women’s Day came, more nationwide demonstrations demanded justice for rape survivors. September saw the reinvigoration of the Anarcha-Feminist Network of Aotearoa.

Environment

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The Save Happy Valley Coaltion continued its fight in January, while the Coalition began a second occupation, at Mt. Augustus, in February. The Department of Conservation supported Solid Energy against the Coalition, while Solid Energy announced they would sue SHVC in March. That same month, a reclaim the streets was held in Auckland. Save Happy Valley blockaded a coal train in April in Christchurch, while Rio Tinto loomed over the South Island in June. Solid Energy’s legal battle against Save Happy Valley continued in July, while in September, Genesis announced plans to decomission the Huntly coal power plant.

Indymedia

Aotearoa Indymedia had 113 features and many more newswire articles and comments in 2007. The year began with a convergence in Auckland at the start of February. Meanwhile, more mass media mergers and more lies were on the way. March saw AIMC host a “Boot Camp” in Wellington. A report into news media ownership in New Zealand was released in August, while September saw the announcement of the first ever Aotearoa Indymedia Newsreal, which should be finished and released in the coming weeks.

Peace

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January saw the 20th annual Waihopai Spybase protest, while in February it was announced that Australian Prime Minister John Howard would be heading to Wellington. When he arrived, he was met with an angry protest by Peace Action Wellington and friends. The repression in East Timor was discussed in March, while the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was marked by protests across the country. The role of Kiwi troops overseas was raised in April, including in protests at ANZAC Day ceremonies. Anti-ANZAC riots rocked East Timor in August, while in October, delegates to a weapons conference could not escape protesters.

Community

Otautahi Food not Bombs resisted police in January, while May saw the launch of Aotearoa’s first online radical bookshop and Food not Bombs and Christchurch students reclaim public space. May also saw the exposure of corporate spies inside two Wellington and one Christchurch based activist group. Protests were held after Mercury Energy cut off power to an Auckland woman, causing her death in July. An anarchist conference was announced for September in Auckland. 14 were arrested in Christchurch attempting to save a youth space in August, and councils were urged to implement user-pays for water. September saw protests against the US-NZ Partnership Forum in Auckland.

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Global

March saw the eviction of a Danish social centre, provoking riots in Copenhagen. That same month, mobilisations were held across Central and South America against George W Bush’s tour. May saw police repression at the ASEM protest in Hamburg, Germany, while the Burmese people rose up against military rule in October. December saw 25 people sentenced to 110 years jail over charges from the 2001 G8 protest in Genoa, and the year finished with the Lakota Sioux declaring sovereign nation status.

Check out www.indymedia.org for more stories from all around the world.

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Prison and Borders

In April, Hossein (Thomas) Yadegary, an Iranian refugee, was released from Mt Eden Prison after 30 months inside. Protests continued in May in support of two other Iranian refugees inside Mt Eden. In May, the New Zealand Immigration Service conducted dawn raids in Northland. June saw protests in support of the imprisoned Iranian refugees continue, and the tour of former Black Panther leader Angela Davis. Ali Panah, one of the imprisoned Iranian refugees, went on a hunger strike, and Aotearoa Indymedia provided updates – Dying Ali Panah kept in handcuffs – Day 34, HUNGER STRIKE DAY 49: SATURDAY PROTEST TO FREE ALI PANAH & Ali Panah: “Starving for Justice” – Seven activists arrested at Mt.Eden. After Panah’s release on bail on September 3, the focus turned towards freeing the last of the Iranian refugees, Amir Mohebbi, who had been in jail for 3 & 1/2 years. In October, Mohebbi was also released on bail. In November, an Aotearoa anarchist was arrested in Sydney on year old rioting charges stemming from the G20 protest in Melbourne. After initially being held in custody, he was granted bail after a few days.

p.s. Yes, we know – everything is connected! But just for the sake of putting stories into one box only, the struggle of Fijian workers, for example, ends up in the ‘Pacific’ section and not under ‘Workers Rights’.


Happy Valley train blockaders in court

September 17, 2007

In late April 2007, two Save Happy Valley activists locked on to train tracks in Christchurch to stop a coal train from reaching Lytellton Port. After several hours, they were removed and arrested, and a third activist was also arrested and charged with “communicating with a prisoner”.

On Friday September 14th they appeared in court, and this is what happened. If you can’t see the embedded video below, click here. Hi-res version coming soon.

For more info, see www.savehappyvalley.org.nz


Interview with Frances Mountier on Solid Energy’s legal action

July 27, 2007

A video interview with Frances Mountier, an activist in the Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC), who was in court Wednesday after she was sued over her role in the production and distribution of a report into Solid Energy’s environmental destruction in 2006.

High quality version available here, thanks to EngageMedia.

Low quality version embedded below, or if you can’t see it, it’s available on YouTube by clicking here.

And a feature I wrote for Aotearoa Indymedia about this:

Frances Mountier, an activist in the Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC), was in court Wednesday after she was sued over her role in the production and distribution of a report into Solid Energy’s environmental destruction in 2006.

The legal action taken by Solid Energy had changed considerably from when it was first launched. Proceedings against Powelliphanta Augustus Inc, who Solid Energy were trying to claim were representatives of the Save Happy Valley Coalition, were dropped prior to the hearing and Solid Energy reached an out-of-court settlement with a third defendant, Simon Oosterman, who runs Enzyme, which hosts the SHVC website. Solid Energy also dropped the original major causes of action – defamation & injurious falsehood – in favour of simply pursuing Frances Mountier for use of their trademarked logo.

This morning in the Christchurch High Court, the Judge ruled that the report could continue to be published, but the Solid Energy logo must be removed from the front page.

“The complete rehashing of this case to one of the use of logo on the front page by myself, when it started as full defamation proceedings against three defendants, simply shows how mistaken and outrageous those attempts to injunct publication of the report were. The whole case has highlighted how anxious this state owned coal miner is to avoid public criticism and debate on their activities” said Frances Mountier, “While defending this case has cost thousands of dollars of funds donated by supporters, we have been successful – the Environment Report can continue to be published in a substantially unaltered form.”

Links: Save Happy Valley Coalition | SHVC Press Release


Save Happy Valley Coalition support striking miners

July 2, 2007

Further to my post the other day:

Save Happy Valley Coalition support striking miners
Monday 2 July 2007
Press Release: Save Happy Valley Coalition
FOR IMMEDIATE USE

The Save Happy Valley Coalition is expressing its solidarity with over 800 miners currently engaged in industrial action after negotiations for their MECA (multi-employer contract agreement) have thus far failed to achieve their demands of a 5 – 5.5% pay rise.

“These miners have a difficult job, and the refusal of a decent pay increase by Solid Energy and mining contractors is nothing short of a disgrace” stated Frances Mountier, Save Happy Valley Coalition spokesperson. “Solid Energy are even refusing to negotiate alongside the contractors, in what appears to be an attempt to thwart the collective agreement.”

“The childish behaviour of Solid Energy in refusing to transport workers to the Spring Creek mine during hazardous weather conditions shows that their main interest is in maximising profit rather than creating safe working conditions. When CEO Don Elder earns over $670,000 a year, there is no excuse to deny the workers the pay rise they deserve”

“We extend our full solidarity and support to the miners in their struggle for decent pay and working conditions.”

// ENDS


Secretive Industries Must Be Exposed After Spying

June 17, 2007

Below is an op-ed I wrote and submitted to the Dominion Post, the local daily corporate newspaper. They didn’t accept it – they said they didn’t want something that contained the facts, but rather something which argued why spying was not a good thing. Also, they didn’t want to call Somali Young, the Wellington spy, as definately a spy, because she hasn’t admitted it publicly (because clearly, when confronted, 99% of spies admit what they do?!?!?). Anyway, enjoy it. Thanks to V & M for the edits.

Secretive Industries Must Be Exposed After Spying

The recent revelations of corporate spies paid to infiltrate the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN), Peace Action Wellington (PAW) and Save Happy Valley Christchurch (SHV) has made a significant splash in the media over the last week, something which the corporates who hired the spies traditionally like to avoid. In Wellington, law student Somali Young was spying on WARN for two years and PAW for eleven months, while in Christchurch, Ryan Paterson-Rouse reported on the activities of SHV for 7 months. Both were hired by Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL), who in turn had contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with Solid Energy, NZ Bio and, most likely, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA).

Solid Energy, New Zealand’s largest coal mining company, are also the most environmentally destructive state owned enterprise. They are responsible for mining coal which, when burnt, will result in carbon emissions equivalent to New Zealand’s entire domestic transport fleet each year.

NZ Bio, who advertise themselves as “representing the New Zealand biotechnology sector”, are an umbrella group covering a range of companies across the country that engage in vivisection and genetic engineering. Both industries have traditionally had large public opposition, and both have done their utmost to prevent information about their practices reaching the public. NZ Bio receive state funding for their work. They link to TCIL from their website, labelling them one of four “NZ Bio Partners” and the “Security Providers to the Biotech Industry”

The NZDIA are an umbrella group containing most of New Zealand’s weapons manufacturers. Working closely with the Ministry of Defence, the New Zealand Defence Force and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, they hold an annual conference which for several years has been a target of protest by PAW, who are opposed to the trade in arms and munitions. Andrew Gibson, owner of Gibson Security, has revealed that TCIL would contract the services of his company specifically for events such as these annual conferences.

TCIL paid Ryan Paterson-Rouse a base rate of $400/month, plus $30 an hour for the time spent spying on SHV and $300/day for any time spent in Happy Valley. For this, all emails he received were forwarded directly to Gavin Clark of TCIL, he provided a report on the 30th of each month and responded to any questions from Solid Energy via Gavin Clark. Topic of discussion ranged from who was coming to meetings, what people’s roles within SHV were and who was in a relationship with who through to legally privileged information on SHV’s defence strategies for the upcoming defamation hearing and the planning for the recent coal train blockade. In fact, the action planning meetings for the train blockade were held at Paterson-Rouse’s house!

One can imagine that the pay received, and information passed on, by Somali Young was of a similar nature. Additionally, her position as a law student enabled her to offer her services as a legal advisor to both WARN and PAW. Prior to the October 2006 protests against the defence industry conference held at Te Papa, Young provided a space for the planning meetings, meaning TCIL knew the entire plan for what would occur, which was then passed on to security present on the day, as revealed by Andrew Gibson of Gibson Security in the Sunday Star Times (June 3). In her role as legal adviser, Young collected names and phone numbers (including family contacts) of many of the participants. Lastly, Young also offered to be the collection point for all still photography and video footage taken during the demonstrations – footage that no doubt ended up with TCIL.

Solid Energy have rightly been subject to hard questions this past week, but the vivisection and arms industry have thus far managed to avoid public scrutiny. The three industries are some of the most destructive to people, animals and the planet, and all have spent state funding on spies to enable them to hide information and frame public debate in a way that is directly opposed to transparency and accountability.

In the late 1990′s, Timberlands West Coast Ltd, a state owned enterprise, was caught out using similar methods in its bid to shut down public debate over West Coast native logging. In this case, the conspiracy went straight to the top, with Jenny Shipley, then Prime Minister, and other National Party hierarchy fully enmeshed, as revealed in Nicky Hager’s book Secrets & Lies. While Helen Clark and Trevor Mallard have condemned Solid Energy’s hiring of Paterson-Rouse, it is still speculation just what the Labour Government’s involvement in the spying prior to its exposure was.

TCIL’s first foray into spying on political groups came through genetic engineering, an area with heavy involvement from Crown Research Institutes such as AgResearch and Crop & Food Research. It appears, then, that TCIL have a long history of spying on political groups for Government owned companies.

This kind of spying is, unfortunately, totally predictable. These corporations are involved in destroying the planet, torturing animals and manufacturing war material. Until our economic, political and social systems stop rewarding such activities, there will be plenty of people willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. Over the last week, we have seen what may be simply the tip of the iceberg – as the pieces fall into place more will become clear. Only then, perhaps, will we know how deep the well of deceit and subterfuge sinks.


Spied on group demands resignation at tear filled meeting

May 30, 2007

Spied on group demands resignation at tear filled meeting

The Christchurch Save Happy Valley group met Tuesday night with Ryan, the infiltrator hired by Thompson & Clark Investigations to gather information for state owned enterprise Solid Energy. The Save Happy Valley Coalition is today reiterating its demand for the resignation of CEO Don Elder for engaging in devious, underhanded and illegal practices.

“It was an intense discussion last night, with Ryan and many members of our group in tears. We conveyed to Ryan that while we were deeply disappointed and hurt by his behaviour, we understood that he was merely a small player in Don Elder’s deplorable game,” said Coalition spokesperson Frances Mountier, “Despite both Helen Clark and Trevor Mallard labelling his practices ‘totally unacceptable’, Elder continues to defend Thompson & Clark hiring unregistered private investigators to spy on our group, an immoral act that is also a clear breach of the law.”

“As the head of New Zealand’s most environmentally destructive SOE, Elder is responsible for mining coal which, when burnt, will result in carbon emissions equivalent to New Zealand’s entire transport fleet, for driving a native species to extinction and now for employing some of the most insidious practices ever seen by an SOE,” said Ms Mountier.

“If Elder does not offer his resignation, it must be demanded by the Board at their next meeting. A new CEO must immediately give an assurance that they will not hire private investigators to spy on us or any other group,” said Ms Mountier.

“We are more determined than ever to see this campaign through to victory. Up against all the odds, Happy Valley is still safe and it’s resident Great spotted kiwi / Roa, Western Weka and other native species remain protected in their homes. Happy Valley will be saved, and New Zealand will make a socially just and environmentally sustainable transition away from coal. Nothing – not Don Elder, not spies, not political interference – can stand in our way,” said Ms Mountier.

// ENDS


Spies exposed in local activist groups

May 27, 2007

The Christchurch Save Happy Valley (SHV) group, the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN) and Peace Action Wellington (PAW) have exposed corporate spies operating within their groups. In Christchurch, Ryan had been involved in the group for 7 months, while in Wellington Somali had been spying for around 2 years.

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The pair were employed by Thompson & Clark Private Investigations Limited, an Auckland firm that specialises in “covert physical and electronic surveillance” and “political activism”. In Ryan’s case, the money came from Solid Energy, while in Somali’s, it was likely to be the NZ Biotech Industry for WARN and the NZ Defence Industry Association for PAW.

Frances Mountier, spokesperson for SHV Christchurch, said “It is shocking that a state owned enterprise would use such insidious and underhand tactics to undermine the public debate on climate change”.

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“Thompson & Clark are a leech-like company, feeding off political groups while making sure not to kill their main source of income” stated WARN spokesperson Mark Eden. “Companies that abuse animals like to keep their practices their dirty little secret, and it seems they will sink to any low to keep it that way.”

Peace Action Wellington has expressed solidarity with the other groups. “This corporate infiltration and spying combined with the spying and violence of the police is part and parcel of speaking out in this so called “democratic” State. We wish to extend our solidarity towards those other groups infiltrated seeking to do the same”.

The Save Happy Valley Coalition has previously exposed Thompson & Clark on two occassions – in February 2006, people at the Happy Valley occupation came accross two T&C spies on a ridgeline overlooking the campsite, while in September 2006 a camera with a powerful zoom lens was discovered at the start of the track into the Valley.

Press Releases: Peace Action Wellington | Save Happy Valley Coalition


End of the line for coal

May 19, 2007

This article by me was in today’s Dominion Post:

On Sunday April 29th, two activists from Save Happy Valley Christchurch locked-on to the Main South Line, blocking a coal train. This delayed the delivery of climate-polluting coal from state-owned Solid Energy’s Stockton mine from reaching the Port of Lyttelton . The activists were connected via a welded steel pipe buried in concrete laid under the train tracks, and were removed and arrested after several hours.

The protest was the latest in over three years of activity against the proposed destruction of Happy Valley. Solid Energy plans to turn the ecologically significant sub-alpine wetland ecosystem, approximately 25km north-east of Westport on the West Coast of the South Island, into an open-cast coal mine. Other actions include the fifteen month long occupation of Happy Valley itself by activists and supporters from across New Zealand and the world, banner drops on Wellington motorways and the waterfront, and actions at the state owned enterprise’s Christchurch HQ.

Climate change is increasingly recognised as one of the major issues facing the planet today, yet the Labour Government refuses to take any meaningful action on the matter. They applaud themselves for their plans to increase the efficiency of the ministerial fleet while at the same time coal mined by their own company is responsible for adding as much CO2 to the atmosphere as the entire vehicle fleet (all trucks, buses and cars) on New Zealand’s roads each year.

Until Solid Energy ends their plans to mine Happy Valley, and New Zealand begins a serious, socially just and environmentally sustainable move away from coal, the Save Happy Valley campaign will continue across New Zealand. For more information, see www.savehappyvalley.org.nz


May Day in Blackball

May 8, 2007

Over May 4th and 5th, the small West Coast town of Blackball held its annual May Day celebrations. Blackball is an old mining town, and one of the places where the union movement first began in Aotearoa. It soon became a hotbed of the radical workers movement, and remained so until the depression in the 1930s – the New Zealand Communist Party was even headquartered there for a time.

These days, the town has a permanent population of just 360, with many local residents employed at the Roa underground coal mine nearby. The town also gets a number of tourists every year, situated as it is in a beautiful part of the West Coast close to a number of walking tracks.

For the last 13 years, locals have started again celebrating May Day, with a march and other events occuring over the weekend closest to May Day every year. This year, a forum was held between the Save Happy Valley Coalition and locals, to discuss coal, the environment, the campaign to save Happy Valley (around 2 hours drive to the start of the track from Blackball) and the West Coast.

The forum, and subsequent discussions over the rest of the weekend, began a process of real engagement between SHVC and Coasters – in general, while there were undoubtedly disagreements, everyone left with a strong awareness of our commonalities and many with a commitment to furthering these.

Below is the speech I gave to the forum, as one of the four SHVC speakers. The other speakers were a Blackball resident, forum organiser and unionist; a miner from the Roa mine and EPMU member; and an EPMU organiser that works with miners employed by Solid Energy at their Stockton mine (near to Happy Valley).

Hi, my name’s Asher Goldman. I thought I’d start with a brief introduction and background on myself, because I firmly believe that it is only once we understand where we are all coming from that we can begin to imagine any future working together.

I’m 22, and was born and bred in Wellington. At age 17 after dropping out of high school one year earlier, I spent around a year in Israel, working with Israeli and Palestinian children on co-existance projects. This has continued to be an inspiration to me, as an example of two seemingly intractable sides being able to look past their apparent differences and realising that, as their future lies together, they need to develop methods of cooperation and shared understanding.

Since returning to New Zealand in 2004, I have worked with children in minority groups on self-confidence issues, and done freelance journalism. As of last year, I am a fulltime writer, on issues of religion, politics and the environment. Through researching climate change, I decided to get involved in the Save Happy Valley Coalition in late 2005.

I’m very excited to be a part of this panel, here in Blackball, a town with such a rich history of worker’s struggle. Blackball is, of course, one of the places where the worker’s movement in New Zealand really began to step up in the early 1900’s, culminating in such events as the miner’s strike of 1908 and the great strike of 1912.

Of course, union activity has never just been limited to involvement in workplace struggles. Environmental, indigenous and political struggles in New Zealand and all over the world have a long history of union support and involvement.

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) instituted over 40 “Green bans” on various construction projects around Sydney that would have destroyed areas of native bush and low-income neighbourhoods for motorways and high rise apartments. The BLF enacted the green bans after requests from local community action groups, as a method of preventing development when legal avenues had been exhausted – without the involvement of the union labourers, nothing could be demolished or built.

To the BLF, like the New Zealand unions that were involved in action against nuclear ship visits, apartheid in South Africa and the war in Vietnam, these involvements in areas perhaps considered outside traditional union activity came naturally. They knew that when their collective power was realised, they could create huge change that would not only benefit their members, but local communities, wider society and the environment.

Since the imposition of the anti-worker Employment Contracts Act of 1991, union activity in New Zealand has undoubtedly taken a hard blow. With solidarity and political strikes banned, activity has generally been confined to workplace struggles. Unions are on the rebound however, with the EPMU’s “fair share” campaign, Unite’s SuperSizeMyPay and last year’s lockout of NDU Progressive Enterprise workers all recent prominent examples. Could we also see a resurgence of union solidarity on struggles not directly related to workplace issues?

Where then, does the West Coast community fit into this picture? Can miners and their unions on the Coast take a leading role in moving the West Coast towards social and environmental sustainability?

Coal mining in New Zealand will end. Of that, there can be little doubt – it is a comparatively easy target that Governments increasingly pressured to take action on Climate Change will make use of, at some point. If we take that as a given, the question then becomes not “what to do about coal mining?” but rather “if coal mining must end, on who’s terms will it be?”

We should have no doubt that if it is left to the Government or big business to dictate the terms of the end of coal, workers in the coal industry and their local communities will lose out. In a system where economic interests reign supreme, all of us here today lose out. When we reach the end of coal on the Coast, it won’t be the owners or executives of Solid Energy or Francis Mining taking the economic hit – they’ll return to their plush homes and find other natural resources and workers to exploit to continue making their profit.

The only way for Coasters to ensure that you are not left behind is for you all to take the initiative, to dictate where the Coast will move after coal, and the steps to take between where you are today and where you want to be in the future. It is not our position, as Save Happy Valley, to be telling you what you should do – rather, it is our responsibility to offer you all our support and solidarity in order that you can choose your own future.

SHVC has failed thus far to constructively engage with Coasters, and for that I do genuinely apologise. Today, I hope, we can all begin this engagement. Over three years into our campaign, we can all agree this is late in coming, but rather than holding back, can we now we move forward from here? If we realise that, in the long term, our interests in equality and autonomy are aligned, even if in the short term they appear to diverge, then we can discuss, as equals on a bedrock of mutual respect, what practical steps we can take to support and show solidarity with each other, even on matters where we might disagree.

It could begin, on a simple level, at the upcoming contract negotiations with Solid Energy. They will, no doubt, attempt to use the Save Happy Valley Coalition as their excuse to refuse pay increases. One only has to glance at CEO Don Elder’s pay packet of around $670,000 and its frequent increases and bonuses to realise the farcical nature of this claim. I will support you 100% in getting your desired pay rise in any way I can, and, from our newfound basis of solidarity, I would hope that you all call Don Elder and the rest of the executives on the falsity of their claim and refuse to allow them to distract you from their own selfish interests.

It is in their interest of Government and big business to further widen the divide between workers and environmentalists – it is in all of ours to bridge it.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.


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