'Right time' to end Octagon occupation

Occupy Dunedin protestor Kieren Trass cleans up the Octagon as Occupy Dunedin protest ends. Photo...
Occupy Dunedin protestor Kieren Trass cleans up the Octagon as Occupy Dunedin protest ends. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Octagon's occupation may be over but Occupy Dunedin protesters are promising a new phase to highlight their cause.

The handful of remaining protesters packed away their tents, removed the tarpaulins covering their communal area, and mowed the lawns before vacating the site they had occupied since October 15.

With the Christmas and New Year period approaching, it was the right time for the anti-capitalism protesters to end their 66-day occupation, said Kieran Trass, one of the occupiers.

"It is not appropriate to be here over this time", he said of the protest, which at its peak attracted more than 100 people. "We are having a little break".

The first phase of the occupation had achieved its goal of provoking "discussions in the community in the places they need to be had and by the people who need to have them that don't particularly wish to have them".

Mr Trass said the occupation showed police "have no power", after they declined to act on a council trespass notice for breaching a camping bylaw, for fear of running foul of the Bill of Rights.

"The precedent has been established. It is OK to occupy the Octagon for valid protests," the former property investor said.

It was unknown if the next phase would involve further occupation, but a general assembly at 7pm today would discuss some possible ideas, including a possible community gardening service.

"I don't know why people seem to think we want to camp here, and why we want to be here for a long time," Mr Trass said.

Dunedin City Council contractors last week replaced turf damaged by the protest. Council staff will inspect the site for damage today.

Community and Recreation Services manager Mick Reece said he told Mr Trass the protesters did not need to mow the lawns but was told the occupiers "liked to leave it tidy".

Mr Trass said he personally wanted see the Octagon "restored to the wonderful garden it should be ... this is the garden of Dunedin".

When asked for a particular highlight, he said it was the "lessons you learn by sitting in one place and watching the world pass you by".

"You learn a lot about yourself."

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he was pleased the group had moved on, and "I wish they had done it some time ago".

The council " tried to use the tools we thought we had", and was watching with interest the Auckland Council's legal battle with Aotea Square protesters.

"From the point of view of local government all over New Zealand there is a big question mark around what laws are you allowed to break in the commission of a protest."

Mr Cull said the protest also raised questions on what bylaws, if any, the police would enforce, and local government would want clarification from the courts.

"Because in deciding that the Bill of Rights essentially overruled whatever bylaws that we used for a basis of a trespass notice, the police were deciding on something that one would have expected the courts to decide."

While most people would agree with many of the issues raised, "the issues the group chose to highlight were overshadowed by the rights and wrongs of occupying a public space.

"I believe there is a residue of support for the causes they are highlighting, but the message I am getting from the community is why are they there this is our space and it looks awful."

Mr Cull said he had met with the occupiers several times and would not attend tonight's meeting. However, he confirmed council would not enter negotiations if the group planned to return to the Octagon.

"We won't pay any group off with concessions to persuade them not to break the law."

A restorative justice meeting was held in Dunedin yesterday between Andrew Tait, and the unnamed 49-year-old man who allegedly headbutted him at the Occupy Dunedin site last month.

Mr Tait did not want the man to go to court and face charges, and said "I am happy to let it go".

 


Timeline

• Sep 17: Occupy Wall Street begins in New York, with protesters rallying against such issues as social and economic inequality.
• Oct 15: Occupy Dunedin with about 100 protesters and 30 tents, begins in the Octagon.
• Oct 20: Occupiers offered alternative sites, such as Market Reserve, by Dunedin City Council.
• Oct 27: Finance Minister Bill English says he empathises with some of the ideals of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
• Nov 1: At 3pm, DCC officials flanked by a security guard issued the group with a trespass notice warning them to cease camping in the Octagon. The 8pm eviction deadline comes and goes with no police presence, and several hundred marching in support of the cause.
• Nov 6: Paving repair work begins in Octagon
• Nov 8: After reviewing legal avenues, police rule out evicting protesters.
• Dec 16: DCC contractors replace turf damaged by the occupation.
• Dec 20: Occupy Dunedin protest ends.


hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

 

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