No one seems to have any idea how the Wellington protest will end.
POLITIK understands that the Prime Minister spoke with the Police Commissioner on Friday, but despite that, he remains adamant that he will not use force to move the protesters.
Wellington’s Mayor, Andy Foster, who initially refused to move the parked cars clogging the city’s streets, is now lobbying the Government to negotiate with the protesters.
He has, apparently, been trying to persuade ACT leader David Seymour to act as a go-between.
There is no sign that the Government is willing to talk at all.
About the only hint that the Police may have a strategy to eventually end the protest came in a statement last night.
“In the medium term, we will continue working to free up the networks and infrastructure of the surrounding areas to remove the burden felt by the Wellington public, by bringing the protest back within the parliamentary precinct, and ultimately within the lawful bounds of public protest action, acknowledging this may take some time,” the statement said.
There are three key phrases; “in the medium term”, “bringing the protest back within the parliamentary precinct”, and “acknowledging this may take some time”.
Keeping the protest within Parliament will mean closing off all access to the grounds. That should have the effect of limiting the provision of food and water to the protesters inside.
As for the protesters themselves, they put out a statement last night praising the Police.
“The Police’s public messaging over the past few days could not be more clear,” they said.
“Other than some inconveniences the protest has caused, Police have confirmed protestors are not doing anything to warrant the use of force.
“They have also acknowledged that the protest is largely peaceful and that measures such as seizing vehicles run a high risk of people getting hurt.
“We are working with the Police in a mutually cooperative 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.”
Police Commissioner Coster made it clear in an interview on TVOne’s “Q+A” yesterday that he believed any enforcement action in Parliament could end up with the Police losing public support as he claimed they did after the Springbok tour in 1981.
He mentioned the tour four times in the interview.
“I would note that the situation in the Springbok tour, for example, led to a long term loss and trust of confidence in place because the violence used was so confronting, the situation in front of us could very readily become the same with the police enforcement intervention,” he said.
“And so I want us to explore all reasonable options before we end up there.”
Parliament’s standard conditions under which protests are permitted on the grounds include: “no structure, such as a tent, maybe erected.”
Asked if the Police would stop someone from taking a marquee onto the grounds of Parliament, Coster replied: “We would not do that right now; we don’t have the powers to do that right now.”
Q+A: “Can you stop someone from bringing a sleeping bag or cooking equipment?
Coster: “Not at this stage.”
Meanwhile, the protesters continue to complain that the Government will not meet them.
“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,” they said.
In their statement, they claim that the protest is about mandates, but they also mention the Covid Response Act, the legislation which empowers most of the restrictions imposed by the Government, such as lockdowns and masks.
“We remain committed to speaking with senior government members to open dialogue about the Covid Public Health Response Act and lifting of all mandates so that people can return to work and society,” they said.
There is no will at present from within the Government to have those talks.
However National Leader, Christopher Luxon yesterday issued a statement that did not mention talks but implied that the Government might start lifting some of the restrictions the protesters are complaining about.
“New Zealanders have lost confidence that the Government has a plan to resolve the protest,” the statement said.
“The Government needs to address the underlying frustration many Kiwis have about their approach to Covid and lack of a plan.
“Labour needs to be clear with the public. They need to front and talk through the next steps for Covid. And they need to tell us what criteria they will use to determine when mandates can be removed.”
That might satisfy some protesters, but the hardcore is on about much more than mandates; there is a consistent call for the entire Parliament to be replaced. There are banners and signs about 1080, 5G, corporate power — the kind of topics familiar to anyone who watched Billy Te Kahika’s AdvanceNZ or Sue Grey’s Outdoors Party or the other minnows at the last election.
All up the minnow fringe parties; AdvanceNZ, Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis, New Conservatives, NZOutdoors Party and Vision NZ got 91,864 votes at the last election. That was 3.18 per cent of the total.
In 2020 none got anywhere near the 5 per cent threshold; the New Conservatives polled the highest with 1.48 per cent of the vote.
Last night, 100,588 had signed an online petition telling the protesters to go home and that they did not have signatories support. That number of signatories was growing by the minute.
These are key points. The causes represented out the front of Parliament are fringe and represent a tiny minority of the overall electorate.
The call to end mandates only cloaks them with respectability for the meantime.
When their other causes are put to the electorate, voters abandon them.
What Coster’s comments do not acknowledge was that there was huge support for the anti-tour protesters in 1981. That easily translated into sympathy for them when the Police moved them on.
Furthermore, the 1981 tour was punctuated with outbreaks of police brutality of a particularly ugly nature, such as drawing blood from a baton attack on elderly female protesters in Molesworth Street and the infamous baton attack on three protesters dressed as clowns at the final test at Eden Park.
A court later found the attack unlawful and ordered the Police to pay $10,000 compensation to each victim.
Coster faces a very different situation at Parliament; a protest group with only marginal support and a much more disciplined Police force unlikely to break ranks and behave as their colleagues did in 1981.
It is hard to see this protest ending without the Police eventually having to use some force.