Clashes last evening between Police and demonstrators in Wellington revealed a new harder edge to the protest.
Just before 6.00 p.m., about 70 Police linked arms and moved in on a small group of mainly Maori protesters who had tried to move the concrete blocks installed earlier in the day to prevent new vehicles from joining the protest.
Many of those facing the Police on the roadway seemed protest-hardened, and there were constant references to the Police being on Maori land; some wore tee shirts with Ihumatao on them.
At one stage, fireworks went off. The Protest Telegram channel, “At Weeks End News”, claimed a person fired them at the protesters who handed him to the Police.
Video showed a male firing the fireworks into the air alongside the police line, but he was quickly pushed away by two protest security people.
However, Police did detain at least one person who was driven away at high speed in a police van.
Others from the protest in Parliament stood on Parliament’s Bowen Street steps and watched the action cheering the group confronting the Police on.
Traffic going up Bowen Street was stopped, and traffic coming down turned around.
Eventually, a bus made it into the middle of the melee, and the Police then retreated to the crowd’s cheers (and jeers) and returned to the back of Parliament.
Parliament itself was packed with Police; over 200, one Beehive official estimated.
The sense was that the Police were ready for action; that their tactics might be to keep squeezing the protesters perhaps until there is only a hardcore left.
Within the protest itself, differences between the factions were becoming more evident.
The leader of AdvanceNZ, Bill Te Kahika, who is communicating with the protest via a chat group, accused former Conservative Party leader, Leighton Baker, of knowing that there would be an operation to put up barriers and that Police were moving in, as they did in the early hours of yesterday morning.
“They should have let the people know!” said Te Kahika.
Baker made an emotional apology to the protest on the Parliamentary forecourt shortly after Te Kahika’s message.
He had not checked his messages on Sunday night; had he done so, he would have found one from the Police advising of the action they planned to undertake yesterday morning.
“I didn’t go back to them, and I didn’t ring them back, and because I didn’t, I didn’t get the time they were going to do this,” he said.
As a consequence, he didn’t alert the rest of the protesters.
“It’s my fault that you weren’t alerted, and I am incredibly sorry for this.”
What is clear is that there is a power struggle going on between the various right-wing groups, many inspired by Trump, who exist uncomfortably alongside each other at the protest.
Ironically they share much the same agenda; all politicians are corrupt and should go, the media is corrupt, and the establishment is manipulated by the United Nations, Bill Gates and other foreign corporate figures.
Groups like Sue Grey’s Outdoors Party put an emphasis on ecological issues like 1080 and the alleged deaths being caused by Covid injections.
There are nuances, and they were on display last night. Te Kahika’s Advance party and Brian Tamaki’s Freedom and Rights group both include an emphasis on Maori sovereignty issues.
One of Te Kahika’s other complaints about Baker is that he has supported Hobson’s Pledge’s call for the Treaty of Waitangi to be taken out of New Zealand legislation.
But it is all rather like student politics with much energy and some combustion, ultimately among a group of people who are not large enough to make a significant impact on New Zealand politics.
Nevertheless, National Leader Christopher Luxon yesterday seemed to flirt with the idea of supporting them.
“What we are seeing outside Parliament, and the reaction to it is the culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling along in our communities for some time,” he said yesterday in his “State of the Nation” speech.
“It’s driven by Covid and vaccine mandates, yes, but the frustrations shared by many Kiwis are also driven by a Government that seems to be stalling.”
The protest at Parliament includes people who are showing a flagrant disregard for the law – blocking off streets, ignoring rules and abusing Wellingtonians, he said.
“This hasn’t been helped by a Prime Minister who is missing in action and Trevor Mallard who has done nothing but inflame the situation.
“However, there are frustrations shared by law-abiding and well-intentioned people up and down the country about the Government’s approach to Covid and its lack of a plan.
“This debate should not take place between law-makers and law-breakers on the forecourt of Parliament, while roads are illegally occupied, and death threats hang in the air.
“However, there are urgent issues before our elected representatives that must be confronted.
“It is simply not sufficient for the Government to stand to one side while the protest rages, sheeting responsibility to the Police and ignoring the wider debates that fuel it.”
This is consistent with the lines that National has been pursuing, condemning the protest but allowing that it has legitimacy and rather than attacking Jacinda Ardern, they have focussed on Speaker Trevor Mallard.
Ardern herself yesterday accused National of sympathising with the protesters, recalling that last Thursday night, all party leaders in Parliament had agreed that there would be no negotiations with the protesters until they left Parliament..
“We all took as parties a position, rightly, that none of us would engage with what is ultimately an illegal activity outside that borders on and demonstrates bullying and harassment of Wellingtonians.
“I find their (National’s) position at the moment quite upsetting to see how they seem to be responding to and sympathising with the protesters.”
The problem National faces is that what it thinks the protest is about, it is not. It has changed and mutated into a Trump-like “drain the swamp” attack on the political and governmental establishment, ironically, including the National Party.
However, Ardern herself was not above addressing the mandate issue which the protest is ostensibly about.
She said that the Government expected the current Omicron outbreak to peak in mid to late March.
“If we follow the pattern of other countries, we will likely see a rapid decline, followed by cases stabilising at a lower level.
“That is the point when we can start to do things differently
“First, the traffic light system will change.”
She said that would mean moving down through the traffic lights to the green light. However, the Green Light still would require vaccine passes for hospitality and sports.
But that now appears to be up for change, with the Prime Minister saying that for most people, they will not be necessary after the peak has passed.
“The reason we will be able to move away from vaccine passes and many mandates is because more people will have had Covid,” she said.
“So in the same way that coming out the other side of the peak will give us a chance to step down through the traffic light system and ease things like gathering limits, it will also enable us to move on from vaccine passes and ease mandates in places where they are least likely to impact on vulnerable people.
“They will remain important in some areas, though for some time, we can be no specific date given at this point.”
That is about as good as the protesters can expect to get on mandates, but they cannot expect the Government to agree to most of their other demands.
However, there is clearly a hardcore within the protest determined to fight for those for as long as they can — or as long as the Police will allow them.