Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Association. Volume 40, Number 3. March 14, 1977.
Tent Embassy continued
Tent Embassy continued
While the Queen was opening Parliament, Diane Hooper was pleading guilty to an offence she believed she had never committed.
In answering a charge of wilful trespass on Parliament Grounds, Diane had spent over $250 for travel and made at least 10 court appearances over the past 15 months because she had pleaded not guilty.
She was arrested on Christmas Eve. 1975, along with 35 others while taking part in the Tent Embassy protest in Parliament Grounds.
Two months earlier, in mid October, the historic Maori Land March had arrived in the capital. It was met in Parliament Grounds by many Government and Opposition M.P.'s, but at no stage during the formal speech making did either party give any assurances that the alienation of Maori Land would stop. This left many people utterly dissatisfied and a group led by some of the younger people who had marched the full length of the island decided to stay on Parliament Grounds until such assurances were given.
For some weeks there were several tents dotted about Parliament Grounds but the threat of being forcibly removed was always there.
Some security was later given by the then acting Speaker of the House, Jonathan Hunt. He gave permission for just one tent to remain. This tent was known as the 'Maori Embassy' and symbolized the feeling that the Maori was fast becoming a foreigner in his own land.
With the change of Government following the general elections, it became obvious that Muldoon and his followers considered the "Maori Embassy" a scab on the landscape.
When a deputation from the Embassy met Muldoon soon after the elections he asked them why he should do anything for them — "after all" he said, "we all know who you vote for!" With that, he dismissed the deputation.
On December 23, 1975 Muldoon informed the protestors that they had until 10am December 24, to take the Tent Embassy down and leave Parliament Grounds.
Diane Hooper was one of 36 people who felt strongly that they had the right of peaceful protest, and that Muldoon was abusing his new-found power. It was felt that the Speaker has jurisdiction over Parliament Grounds and since he had not revoked his permission the Embassy had the right to remain.
The 36 were arrested and charged with wilful trespass.
Over the past 15 months a test case has been dragged through the Magistrates Court, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal without success. Had there been sufficient funds the test case would probably have gone on to the Privy Council in England.
After numerous adjournments the defendants were due to appear back in the Magistrates Court for sentencing on Feb. 28, but because this date coincided with the Queen's opening of Parliament a new date was set for March 16.
Most of the defendants learnt of the adjournment with only 2 or 3 days to spare. Diane, a teacher on the West Coast had her bags packed and had arranged for a relief teacher when she received notification of the adjournment two hours before her plane was due to leave! By then she felt it was too late to pull out and decided to go ahead.
She was able to obtain a special hearing of her own case on Feb 28; and took the opportunity to tell the bench about the constant expense and harrassment she had been put to in trying to prove her innocence.
However; the court decided that unless she pleaded guilty her case would have to be adjourned yet again, and faced with this Diane had to go back on her principles and plead guilty, where-upon she was convicted and fined $25 — a further expense to add to the hundreds the case had already cost her.
This legal battle is not yet over for about 15 of the defendants who have been waiting for the results of the test case before deciding about their own cases. They will all appear in the Magistrates Court on Wednesday. March 16 at 10am where they will maintain their plea of not guilty of wilful trespass and conduct their own defence.
There will be a picket outside the No. 1. Courtroom at 9.30am on that day. Sympathisers are welcome to join.
Students to help with court reports. Anyone interested apply at the Salient office. Interested people should have outrage at the nature of the courts and society in general.