Parliament protest: Security surge as police vow to crack down on ‘abuse, intimidation, or violence’

* ‘We want our streets back’ – Wellington mayor angry as protest grows
* Jarrod Gilbert: The Covid anti-mandate Parliament protest and disinformation
* Sasha Borissenko: The many laws Covid anti-mandate Parliament protesters are breaking
* Heather du Plessis-Allan: How long can the stand-off go on?
* Satire: Reading between the lines – Steve Braunias translates police’s protest press release

Police have tightened security around stretches of the parliamentary precinct and stressed they’re taking a zero-tolerance approach to “abuse, intimidation, or violence” from protesters at Parliament to members of the public.

“There will be an increased police presence around the protest area, especially at the start and end of each school/work day. Anyone abusing or intimidating members of the public can expect to be arrested, removed and face charges,” police said yesterday evening.

The heightened security from mid-afternoon on Sunday followed news the Speaker of the House wanted a new fence considered and the Act Party said Omicron data required a vaccine mandate rethink.

A Ballantrae Place resident said about 15 protesters made a lot of noise at about 3pm.

“Then a whole bunch of police came running.”

He said resolving the protest’s most antisocial aspects was a matter for the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, not for Parliament or the Speaker.

His Victoria University classes were now online-only and he said staff had been threatened.

“The Government needs to do something. They can’t just ignore it forever.”

The protesters earlier said the Government had “childishly dug itself a hole” in its refusal to meet with them and has called out what they labelled Speaker Trevor Mallard’s “puerile behaviour”.

“Despite knowing the outcome is impossible to achieve, the ultimatum over vehicle parking is not dissimilar to a top-down command issued by a parent to a child,” a statement issued on behalf of the protesters said.

The statement – signed by Convoy 2022 NZ, Freedom Alliance, New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out with Science, Outdoors & Freedom Movement, The Freedom and Rights Coalition and Voices for Freedom – also fired a missive at National leader Christopher Luxon.

“In any normal situation like this, the Opposition would read the room and pivot. But by joining the cross-party agreement to not engage with the protesters, they have shown themselves to be gutless and incapable of representing the interests and concerns of the New Zealand public,” they said.

“Luxon’s strong support for mandates … will be remembered at the next election,” they said.

The protester groups said they were “working with the police in a mutually co-operative manner to ensure everyone’s safety and right to peaceful protest”.

“This was particularly important over the past two days as numbers attending Parliament Grounds protest naturally swell over the weekend.

“It is vital that we maintain a respectful and open dialogue with the police as we are all in unchartered territories. At all costs, we must avoid the situation at Parliament Grounds last week, which saw 122 people arrested and many more hurt.

“Despite formally requesting a meeting over a week ago, and then us putting forward a highly skilled mediator five days ago, the Government still refuses to engage with us.”

Inside the camp

Apart from hundreds of tents, the protest site also featured yoga and massage services, a hair salon, basketball hoop, and cryptocurrency lessons.

At the end of Hill St near portaloos, convoy cars were sometimes parked side by side but traffic could still move.

A large group of police were on Hill St near the British High Commission at about 4pm.

Interactions between police, convoy participants and protester security staff in the area appeared cordial.

At the protests, signs and banners continued displaying a variety of messages but with opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates the most common theme.

A white banner draped between trees next to Bowen St appeared to address the Government.

“Thank you 4 keeping out Delta. Omicron is the game changer. End mandates.”

Act leader David Seymour said Omicron infection data suggested it was time to consider if current Covid-19 health responses were realistic.

“Vaccination rates are making little difference to infection rates under Omicron, which means it’s time to ask if the benefits of vaccine rules are still worth the costs to individuals, and social cohesion overall,” he said.

“Based on new evidence, it may be time to move on from Government vaccine mandates.”

He said the Ministry of Health should be more transparent about the vaccination history of people infected with Covid-19.

Vaccination was still the best way to avoid hospitalisation but even strongly pro-vaccine people should confront what new evidence says about infection rates, Seymour said.

National Māori Authority chair Matthew Tukaki launched an online counter-protest and voiced support for police, public servants, and for many others not attending the occupation.

“The vast majority of New Zealanders are with you, and while the last two years have been tough for us all, what’s happening down at the national Parliament is not the majority of the nation,” he said in a Facebook Live broadcast.

Tukaki advised against physical counter-protests.

“We are not a violent country. I do not want to see what has been happening in Canada or the United States.”

Tukaki said he wanted to tell protesters: “Go home. You’ve had your say and you have been heard. The mandates will inevitably end.”

Earlier, police asked some protesters camping on the lawn in front of Turnbull House on Bowen St to leave.

One protester said they’d been camping out for three days, it was one of few grassy areas not turned to mud, and they worried others would come and take vacant spots.

The protester said they’d been advised to find an “admin tent” in the centre of the protest to get an available place after some people vacated the area.

The admin tent also had people responsible for paying parking fines, the protester added.

Earlier, a few protesters in the morning shifted gear, and space opened up on the main lawn in previously congested areas.

After a rainy night, protester numbers appeared down from Saturday, when police predicted attendance would rise due to people arriving for the weekend.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said emergency powers could be considered only if the situation worsened.

He told Q&A de-escalation could still be achieved and the protest resolved without widespread violence.

On the TVNZ show, Coster referred to Canadian protests which partly inspired the Wellington event.

“We’re seeing a situation play out in Canada at the moment, they’ve had to reach for emergency powers … recognising their situation is different from ours, that’s one path.”

Six protest groups said an experienced, neutral party was appointed to mediate, but the Government was still not engaging.

“It is unprecedented for the Government to refuse to meet with such a large protest group and treat them with such contempt,” the Combined Protest Groups statement added.

Speaker Trevor Mallard has asked for scoping work to begin on installing a fence around Parliament’s perimeter. A fence was recommended in a security review of Parliament in 2019/20.

Mallard said he’d still expect Parliament’s grounds to be open at most times, but the protest highlighted challenges in controlling access when needed.

The National Party said it expected to be consulted on any plans Labour might have, as access to Parliament was a matter for all parties, on behalf of all Kiwis.

“Preventing regular access to Parliament’s grounds would be a huge step,” the party said.

“In this country, we’ve always prided ourselves on the close connection between politicians and the people.”

Police yesterday evening said the security of Parliament, the Courts and nearby university campus would be prioritised.

“Regular reassurance patrols of local businesses have been increased,” police added in a statement.

“Anyone abusing or intimidating members of the public can expect to be arrested, removed and face charges.”

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