NZ parliament covid protesters ‘not interested in engaging’, says Ardern

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ... "What I'm seeing, it is some kind of imported form of protest." Image: Angus Dreaver/RNZ

RNZ News

“Go home and take your children” — that was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plea to protesters remaining at Parliament today.

Despite being trespassed from Parliament grounds a week ago, protesters remain on the Parliament lawn and show no sign of leaving in spite of a new record 981 community covid-19 cases today.

There were about 3000 present over the weekend protesting over covid mandates and public health measures.

Ardern announced that New Zealand would move to Phase Two of the omicron plan at 11.59pm on February 15, when the period of home isolation reduces.

She said the increase in covid-19 cases was not unexpected and the country would stay in Phase Two as long as daily cases remained between 1000 and 5000 cases.

Earlier today, Ardern told RNZ Morning Report: “I think we all want [the protesters] to leave”.

“What’s become very clear is this is not any form of protest I’ve seen before and we’ve seen a lot, you know, and I think we’ve said time and time again, New Zealand is a place where protest is part of who we are.

“Some of our greatest movements have been born of people movements, many of which have entered the forecourt of Parliament.

“But what I’m seeing, it is some kind of imported form of protest.

‘Trump flags, Canadian flags’
“We’ve seen Trump flags, Canadian flags, people who are moving around the outskirts of the area with masks are being abused.

“Children and young people on their way to school are being abused. Businesses are seeing people occupy their spaces.

“This is beyond a protest.”

The Morning Report interview. Video: RNZ News

She did not believe the protest should continue and had specific concern for the children there, saying it was not an appropriate place for them.

“Do I believe that they should be there? No. Should they go home? Yes. Especially, especially the children.

Asked if it was time for an “olive branch” gesture or for politicians to meet and talk with protesters, Ardern said their actions did “not create a space where there’s any sense that they want dialogue”.

“What I have seen down on that forecourt does not suggest to me that this is a group that are interested in engaging in policy development.

Signs calling for ‘death of politicians’
“There are signs down there calling for the death of politicians.”

As for the management of the situation, that was for police, she said.

Police today were appealing to protesters to work with them to try to clear the streets of Wellington.

Wellington district commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said they did not plan to wait the protesters out.

Police “ultimately need to be able to make all of those operational decisions,” Ardern said.

“It is absolutely for the police to determine how they manage any form of occupation or protests. And you can understand why that is a convention we will hold strongly to.

“I would hate to see in the future a situation where you have politicians seen to be instructing the police on how to manage any type of protest — and that extends to not passing judgment on operational decisions that are for them.”

Out-of-tune music tactics
Asked about tactics used by Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard over the weekend — out-of-tune music and Covid-19 vaccination ads being played to protesters — Ardern said: “I would also enforce the difference in our different roles here, the Speaker exists on behalf of all parliamentarians.

“His job is to, of course, maintain a safe place to work. Right now it is a very difficult place for people to enter and the one piece of context I’ll just give is that it has not been a silent protest.

“What I’ve heard are clear anti-vaccination messages that do not align with the vast majority of New Zealanders.

“Media, when they’ve stepped onto the forecourt, have been abused and chased and called liars.

“So some of the rhetoric and noise coming from the protest has been pretty poor.”

A discussion on Mallard’s tactics was “not a fray” Ardern wanted get into, she said.

Other covid control tools being used
As for covid-19 restrictions, Ardern said “we’ve only used what’s been necessary. That’s why we’re not using lockdowns anymore — because we now have other tools that means we don’t need to use those harsher form of measures, and we will continue to move away from them.

“But when we’re in the middle of a growing pandemic, that is not the time to move away from those things that keep us safe…

“When it comes to everything from the use of vaccine passes to the use of mandates, you’ve seen with other countries that they have been in the position to start lessening the use of those as they progress through the pandemic and got to a place where you see more stabilisation and a steady management within the health system.

“That is what we would move to as well. It is fairly difficult to put timelines or criteria on that when of course we are dealing with different variants that can come anytime.

“[I am] always loath to set up a situation you then can’t follow through on because of a changing situation, so instead I give the principle: As soon as we can move away, we will move away.

“We’ve done that with lockdowns. We’re opening the borders, we are easing restrictions that have been quite impactful for everyday lives.

“But right now, the ones we still have are going to help us get through omicron.”

981 new community cases
The Ministry of Health reports that there are 981 new community cases of covid-19 in New Zealand today.

In a statement, the ministry said the new cases were in Northland (21), Auckland (768), Waikato (82), Bay of Plenty (23), Lakes (12), Hawke’s Bay (5), MidCentral (5), Taranaki (1), Tairāwhiti (6), Wellington (6), Hutt Valley (14), Wairarapa (12), Nelson Marlborough (2), Canterbury (4), South Canterbury (1) and Southern (19).

“Once again, the further increase in new cases today is another reminder that, as expected, the highly transmissible omicron variant is now spreading in our communities as we have seen in other countries,” the ministry said.

Thirty-nine people with covid-19 are in hospitals in Whangārei, Auckland, Waikato, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch — however, none in ICU or HDU.

The average age of hospitalisations is 55.

At the border, there are 25 new covid-19 cases — eight of which are historical. The cases at the border are from India, Malaysia and 14 of them are unknown.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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