The New Zealand Defence Industry’s annual forum is due to convene on 10-11 October at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, but with just one month to go, activists threaten to disrupt the event.
Activist group Peace Action Wellington has petitioned joint owners of the stadium, Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council, to shut the event out.
The group is also preparing to protest at the event, which will likely see them attempting to prevent delegates from accessing the venue.
The forum, say activists, is a "weapons expo", and a key focus of their objections to the event appears to be the involvement of US defence and aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin as the event’s sponsor. Lockheed Martin make nuclear weapons.
At last year’s forum, held at the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre in Auckland, activists picketed the venue, stopping delegates from gaining entry. This no doubt penalised the many local companies who had hoped to network and promote their many non-weapons goods and services at the once-a-year forum.
New Zealand is rightly recognised as a world leader in nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and activism has played a key role in a nuclear-free New Zealand. Our ‘nuclear-free moment’ was, more accurately, the struggle of many people over many years that led to 1987’s New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act.
Of the many fronts on which the continued anti-nuclear struggle is waged, however, the targeting of the defence industry forum is misguided and unfortunate.
For a start, labelling the event a "weapons expo" and suggesting that it profits from war is nothing short of hyperbolic misrepresentation. It’s an extremely long bow to draw in relation to an industry that supplies and equips a Defence Force widely acknowledged as a force for good in New Zealand, the region and the world.
Apart from generating employment and enterprise, members of New Zealand’s defence industry supply goods and services - food, maintenance services, ICT, equipment (including weapons) - to our Defence Force and to New Zealand Government agencies responsible for ensuring the security of our borders, fisheries, environment, cyberspace, critical national infrastructure, national interests and international reputation.
They don’t use nuclear bombs. And New Zealand’s Government certainly doesn’t buy them. Not from Lockheed Martin. Not from anyone.
Protest can be a blunt and disproportionate weapon, and by targeting the forum and its main sponsor, activists inflict collateral damage on the members of a vitally important New Zealand industry.
It also smacks of hypocrisy. While activists exercise their right to freedom of expression and association to protest, they’ve shown that they’re prepared to do so in a way that denies local suppliers the opportunity to connect with potential procurers and to go about their business. It’s a disappointing irony given that their business just happens to help secure New Zealand and to safeguard the rights to which we are all entitled.
No doubt our government and the New Zealand Defence Industry Association respect the right for groups like PAW to protest - but they conversely have a right that they do so in a way that does not put at risk the safety of delegates or their ability to choose where they go and who they associate with.
The people of New Zealand are evidently proud of the work our Defence Force does, and proud of the role forum delegates play in their success - whether it’s providing boots for their personnel, technology for their systems, or flags for the ships that enable them to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies.