Labour Member Arrested At Party Conference
Press Release – Nick Kelly
Former Chair of Rimtaka Labour Electorate Committee
Current Labour Party member
Ph 04 971 4294
Labour has reached an all time low when it actually puts its own members in prison for trying to attend the Party conference. However at this weekend’s Labour conference this is exactly what happened.
My intention at this weekend’s Labour Party conference was to circulate a moderate leaflet about “removing education from the GATS agreement”. This is a moderate request and something teachers’ unions (in particular the NZEI) have been campaigning for. However when attempting to enter the conference I was prevented from going in by Labour New Zealand council member Paul Tolich, who last year removed me from the Auckland Party conference when I shouted at Helen Clark.
This time Paul became abusive at me, telling me I had no right to attend the Labour conference – a police officer actually had to ask Mr Tolich to calm down. I showed my Labour Party membership card (number – 0240098), and a written invitation from Helen Clark sent to all Labour members inviting members to the conference. I even told Paul Tolich I just wanted to hand around the leaflets, and would not repeat the action I took last year. However Mr Tolich refused to listen to what I said, instead flying into a rage.
In the end I was told I had being given a trespass notice – although the police officer then said “this isn’t from the police, it’s from Labour” and appeared reluctant to do it. When I asked for a written copy, they said they couldn’t do that, but they would post one out latter. I am still unsure about the legality of the supposed trespass notice. Fellow Party member Fleur Fitzsimons (also president of Victoria University Students association) took a number of those leaflets and handed them around the conference – as I was intending to do. I decided instead to join the lobby group outside where I was able to hand out a number of leaflets to Labour members - many of whom were appalled at the trespass. Even Party president Mike Williams said he thought the action was “over the top”.
The Lobby outside continued until mid-day, with between 50-60 people part of this. My later actions were in no way connected to this lobby, as I believed it inappropriate to take any actions during this time. My actions were as a Labour Party member – and were my own, nobody else was part of this.
Just before 2pm I attempted to enter the Labour Party conference. I again showed my Labour Party membership card and the invitation from Helen Clark. The invitation said, “I invite you to come and hear my keynote address at the Labour Party Annual Congress on Saturday 18 May at the Queen’s Wharf Events Centre, Wellington. Please be seated by 2pm. My speech is open to all Labour members and supporters. Please bring this invitation with you to gain entry. I look forward to seeing you there”.
I reached the fence outside the conference where a number of Police and security people were standing. I was told “you have been given trespass notice, and if you step across this line you’ll be arrested”. I looked the officer in the eyes and replied “do what you have to do”. I then stepped over the line.
I was immediately hand cuffed and taken to the police car – membership card and invitation to the party conference still in my hands. Various people were expressing concern at the turn of events – both Labour members and other on-lookers. I was taken down to the Wellington Police station, where I was formally charged with trespass and told I’d have to appear in court in seven days. The statement I gave to the police was “As a member of the Labour Party, it is my democratic right to attend the Labour Party conference”. I was then frisked, made to remove my shoes, watch and other accessories and put in the Police sells.
I was told I’d have to stay there until 4:30pm (it was 2:30 at the time). The cells were cold and very unpleasant. I had nothing more than a hard concrete seat, and a metal toilet. I was by myself in a cell without even a watch to know how long I had to go, the experience was very demoralizing. It angered me that by trying to exercise my democratic right I was treated like a common criminal. At around 3:45pm a police officer came in and said “I’ve never known this to happen before, but a very senior officer in this station has just demanded you be let go immediately and that all charges be dropped”.
I have no complaint with the police involved – they were pressured to do what they did by the Labour Party hierarchy. It is disgraceful that the Labour Party has once again used our police force as a way of settling a Party dispute. My intention was to hand out the leaflets and have very little else to do with the conference. The 5th objective of the Labour Party is “Democratic socialism” – however Labour Party democracy is fast becoming a contradiction in terms.
The Labour Party should not have refused me the right to observe their conference – especially as I’d done nothing wrong at the time. I was in fact not given a written copy of the notice, and it is unclear who it came from (so I doubt it would stand up in court). I took my stand as a way of protesting at being refused entry, and believe I did nothing wrong. I was exercising my democratic right as a Labour member. If the Labour Party have problems with my opinions or actions – then surely these should be resolved within the internal Party dispute procedure.
It is a sad day not just for the Labour Party, but for democracy generally – when people are sent to prison by the government for exercising their democratic rights.