On 31 October the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA) will host its annual New Zealand Defence and Industry Forum at a Palmerston North City Council (PNCC) venue, and protesters are mobilising against it.
Every year, protesters from around New Zealand rally together to disrupt the “weapons expo” or “wexpo”, which is criticised for war-profiteering. Peace Action Manawatū is coordinating this year’s opposition, alongside several faith groups.
20 years ago the forum started in Palmerston North, which is home to the RNZAF Base Ohakea and NZ Army Base Linton in the region, as well as Massey University Centre for Defence and Security Studies.
“On the 20th anniversary the NZDIA felt that it should return to its start point.” said NZDIA chairman Andrew Ford.
The forum has taken place in Wellington in previous years. With pressure from Peace Action Wellington, Mayor Justin Lester banned the forum from Wellington City Council venues.
“It wasn’t something we felt was appropriate for the Wellington Council venues given the protests that were occuring” Lester told Salient.
Palmerston North Deputy Mayor Tangi Utikere said their council has “seen significant support online for our city in hosting the event”.
“The event meets our current venue hire policies which also comply with laws protecting rights for the freedom of speech such as the Human Rights Act.”
PNCC plans to set up staffed checkpoints, which will monitor everyone entering the perimeter of the forum.
“To start locking down blocks of a city, I think that means that things are changing. Our ability to protest is being reduced,” said Sheldon Levet of Peace Action Wellington.
“We recognise that elements of these protest groups have ideological opposition […] Preventing delegates from entering and attending a conference, denies those delegates the same freedoms and rights the protesters claim to protect,” said Ford.
“Weapons companies and the NZDIA are only interested in dialogue that allows them to continue to make money from war. We are there to promote the kaupapa of peace,” said Laura Drew of PAW.
Ford said that the forum ensures that “NZ companies have the best opportunity to compete for those public contracts such that taxpayer revenue is returned through NZ companies to NZ employees and ultimately for the benefit of NZ communities”.
Lockheed Martin, the principal sponsor of the Weapons Expo, is the biggest producer of nuclear weapons worldwide and one of the top contractors for the US. In August, its cage number was found on a remnants from a “MK82 laser guided-precision bomb” dropped on a busy market in Yemen. Weighing at half a tonne, the bomb killed over 40 children.
“Their weapons are being used by the US — Saudi coalition to kill children in Yemen. Have they stopped sales there? Dialogue is only of interest to them when it doesn’t affect their profits,” said Drew.
The three day forum costs $2,100 for non-members, and $1,100 for members. It will take place in the Central Energy Trust Arena.