Opinion divided over protest

The Occupy Dunedin encampment in the Octagon. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Occupy Dunedin encampment in the Octagon. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The tents are dwindling at the Occupy Dunedin encampment in the Octagon, but the battle for public opinion continues to rage.

Dunedin City Council figures released yesterday showed council staff and Mayor Dave Cull had received 626 phone calls and emails since the protest began on October 15.

Most of those received in the first week were from Dunedin residents opposed to the protest, but the comments since have largely come from protest supporters across New Zealand and overseas.

The figures were released by the council yesterday after a request by the Otago Daily Times last week, and left both sides claiming vindication.

Mr Cull said it remained his belief the overwhelming majority of the community wanted the camp out of the Octagon.

His view was backed by the results of an Otago Daily Times online poll, running since November 4, which had attracted one of the largest response rates - at 2286 - of any run by the newspaper. The poll is not scientific.

It showed 61% of voters wanted the protest to end, while 21% supported the continued occupation.

Another 14% wanted the council and protesters to agree to a compromise, offered by Mr Cull earlier this month, while another 4% were not sure how to resolve the stand-off.

Occupy Dunedin protester Bert Holmes said the results showed about one-fifth of the population backed the protest, which gave the occupiers "a very strong mandate".

However, claims the movement represented 99% of the population might need to be reconsidered, given the poll results, he conceded.

"Perhaps it needs to be 'we are the 30%', which is still a mandate to continue what we're doing."

His comments came as the size of the Octagon protest continued to dwindle yesterday, exactly one month after 100 protesters pitched about 30 tents on October 15.

The number of tents has been dropping steadily since, and was down to 14 yesterday. Just a handful of protesters were on site about lunch time, although numbers ebb and flow throughout each day.

Mr Cull said the council was still considering all options, including possible legal avenues, but would not give a time frame for any decision.

"I'm hopeful that we can come to a resolution in the next wee while."

Asked if he was attempting to wait the protesters out, he would only reiterate: "We're reviewing all our options."

The council's aim was to see an end to the protesters' encampment, not their protest, he stressed.

"Obviously, they've got a right to protest. It's the fact that they are camping there."

However, protesters were showing no signs of quitting the site completely, with general assemblies and other activities continuing each day.

The group's Facebook page had also attracted 1167 "likes" - indicating individual supporters - by yesterday afternoon, and was hosting a lively debate between supporters and opponents of the occupation.

Mr Holmes said gauging public opinion "depends who you speak to", with feedback to protesters at the camp "more positive than not".

"It's a lot easier for people to disagree with people behind their backs than it is to their faces.

"The public opinion that we see every day is in favour. You get the people who drive past and tell us to get jobs and all that sort of stuff. It's quite easy to yell out a car window."

The figures released by council governance support officer Jennifer Lapham yesterday showed council staff fielded 15 emails and about 150 phone calls in about the first week of the protest.

They were followed by a flood of 220 emails - mainly from outside New Zealand - on the evening of November 1, hours after trespass notices were issued, overwhelmingly supporting the protest.

Since then, a further 150 emails and 21 phone calls have been received by staff, while Mr Cull had also fielded about 70 phone calls and emails directly.



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