NZ’s Parliament anti-mandates protest deadlock – where to from here?

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Police early today installed concrete blocks in a bid to contain the Parliament protest
Police early today installed concrete blocks in a bid to contain the protest and free up Wellington streets. They made a handful of arrests. Image: RNZ

By Hamish Cardwell, RNZ News senior journalist

Two weeks in and New Zealand’s anti-mandates occupation of Parliament grounds remains a total stalemate with no sign protesters are going anywhere. So where to from here?

About 800 vehicles continue to clog streets around the precinct and protester numbers swelled to more than 1000 this weekend.

Music blasted from the performance stage — just some of the new infrastructure brought in during the second weekend of the occupation of Parliament.

Early this morning, police installed concrete blocks in a bid to contain the protest and free up Wellington streets. They made a handful of arrests.

But there is still no sign of a police crackdown, or of protesters leaving, and Otago University Law professor Andrew Geddis said it looked like they were trying to wait each other out.

He said it was now a battle for public approval — but there was nothing legally preventing police from breaking the occupation up.

“If that was spraying them with pepper and hitting with batons, the law would allow for that,” he said.

“The problem is, of course, that it would look terrible, and it also, it just would be terrible.

“The idea of the police batoning people even if the law allows it … it is just something that in New Zealand we haven’t really seen for years and hopefully you never have to see again.”

Police likely attempting to divide and conquer
Security analyst Dr Paul Buchanan said the police should employ a divide and conquer strategy to separate and eject protesters at Parliament with violent ideologies.

He said the intelligence services should be using camera and drone imagery and facial recognition technology to identify the far-right elements and racist extremists.

“Those people have to be dealt [with] separately and I would say a little more harshly than the majority of the crowd, which are a bunch of hippies and circle dancers, wellness folk who are well intentioned — albeit in my mind misguided.”

Dr Buchanan said there were more options than total appeasement or violent crackdown.

Advocate Simon Oosterman advises non-violent social justice activists here and abroad on how to manage interactions with police.

He said the police strategy seemed to be attempting to deescalate, avoid radicalising people by being heavy-handed, and keeping a lid on bad optics.

For now, he expected towing and ticketing vehicles at the fringes while police worked to create a split between the minority of protesters who are harassing the public and police — and the rest.

Public anger, and towing resources crucial
The Parliament protest is a copycat of one in Canada which brought the downtown of the capital Ottawa to a standstill for three weeks, but which has largely been cleared out with little bloodshed.

Freelance journalist Justin Ling, who has been on the ground in the city, said an increasingly furious public, massive resources from emergency powers and the bitter cold finally brought about the breakthrough.

“Maybe the most crucial part was just the fact that the federal government was able to conscript a whole bunch of tow trucks into helping out police clear the street – just a game changer,” he said.

“You’ve seen this the city clear in just 24 hours – incredibly quickly – there were fears that could have taken weeks.”

Whānau need to ask protesters to come home – health research
Tairāwhiti activist and health researcher Tina Ngata said whānau need to reach out to those who have gone to Parliament and ask them to come home.

“Even if one or two does listen, and then that’s important.

“But also I think Wellingtonians need to hear that we stand in solidarity with them. And the mana whenua of Ngāti Toa Rangatira – Taranaki Whānui in particular … they need to know we stand in solidarity with them.”

Wellington iwi leaders have called for an end to the protest at Parliament.

Ngata said those who did return home need to be tested so they do not bring covid back into vulnerable communities.

Meanwhile, both Buchanan and Ngata said even if the Parliament occupation is broken up, they expect the protest to keep spreading around the country.

  • The Ministry of Health reported 2365 new community cases of covid-19 in New Zealand today. In a statement, the ministry said there has also been two covid-19 related deaths.

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

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