Protesters' tents on Parliament's front lawn with hay on the sodden ground

The big question that hangs over the protest at Parliament is why it has been allowed to continue.

Despite heavy hints from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Speaker that the protesters should be removed, the Police are simply standing by observing the protest.

Indeed yesterday afternoon, one officer could be observed returning placards — some highly offensive — to protesters after they had been picked up by the wind.

POLITIK The Backbencher, pub over the road from Parliament — closed

But the impact of the protest is beginning to intensify. Parliamentary staff have been asked to work from home today; the High and Appeal Courts will not open, and private businesses in the area around Parliament will have to remain shut.

The protesters are now well established with food tents, and well over 100 tents pitched on Parliament’s lawns and in neighbouring streets.

Police are, however, worried about how the tent dwellers are toileting.

Sanitation issues at the site was a concern for Police. Wellington district commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said last night.

“Sanitation has been in the form of portaloos down there…some of the filming has been quite graphic, particularly around children, and on the grounds the squalor of the water, defecation and surrounding environments.”

POLITIK Protesters ‘ cars and vans parked on Molesworth Street

Molesworth Street remains blocked by cars, vans and trucks parked in a chequerboard pattern from the Cenotaph to the National Library.

POLITIK understands that there are now plans for the army to move them.

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Tents have been pitched on the steps of the Court of Appeal. POLITIK understands that over $10 000 was spent on camping equipment by protesters in Wellington over the weekend.

Within Parliament’s grounds, trees have been trampled, and rose bushes pulled out to allow the pitching of marquee-style tents.

Substantial damage has been done to Parliamentary security systems, which, along with the damage to the grounds, suggests the cleanup and restoration bill could run into the hundreds of thousands.

And in an almost unbelievable sight, a way was cleared for a truckload of hay, enabling it to be driven to Parliament’s gates and then unloaded so its load could be used to try and subdue the mud that had built up overnight after sprinklers on Friday night and almost 24 hours of heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday.

POLITIK

Moving through the crowd and the tents yesterday afternoon, it was hard to discern a consistent message.

There were a lot of references to mandates, but just as many opposed to what the protest’s video channel, Counterspinmedia, called “evil psychopath” politicians.

There were vans plastered with signs advocating natural remedies and references to the UN Agenda 2030.

Frustration has clearly been building up among some members of the Government over the failure to move the protesters out of Parliament.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson (who is the MP for Wellington Central), in a Facebook post on Saturday, made his views very clear.

“I have had so many constituents contact me over the last week distressed at what is happening to our city; school pupils spat at and harassed for wearing a mask, roads blocked delaying public transport and emergency services, and businesses shut down,” he said.

“Not to mention the obvious threats of violence against politicians and the media.

“Looking down on a protest that wants to hang me as a politician, a sign that compares the Prime Minister to the March 15th terrorist, calls for arrest and execution of me and other leaders you might understand why I believe the Police need to move them on.”

It was a carefully worded and obviously very deliberate post and, given Robertson’s closeness to the Prime Minister, something that would surely have been discussed with her.

In other words, it was as near to the official word of the Government as you could get.

But Robertson, like the Prime Minister and his Ministerial colleagues, can only express a view on what needs to happen; he cannot order the Police to do anything.

POLITIK

It’s a point that former Prime Minister and constitutional lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, says makes the matter much more complicated.

“Ministers cannot give orders to the police about operations and nor can they tell the police who to prosecute because you can see that would lead to a lot of great unfairness,” he told POLITIK.

“But the questions of policy still remain with the Government.

“For example, the Police can’t decide they’re going to arm themselves.

“That is a policy question.

“So you see, this is not an easy line to draw in many respects; what is an operational matter and what isn’t?”

Sir Geoffrey said another complicating matter was that the Speaker had a lot of jurisdiction over the whole Parliamentary precinct.

“So the Police are not altogether free to do things that the speaker doesn’t want either.”

But Speaker, Trevor Mallard, told POLITIK last night he had imposed no limits on the Police in any action they might want to take.

Sir Geoffrey believes the Police need to use more force.

“It occurs to me this may have turned into an unlawful assembly under the Crimes Act because these people have been there when they’ve been told to go, they’ve been given trespass notices, a lot of them, and arrested 120 of them,” he said.

“But it seems to me that it would be possible to use more force.

“But on the other hand, the ministers would be very reluctant to give orders to the police to say use more force when, when, in fact, it is probably an operational matter.”

POLITIK

Parliament’s rules for protests in the grounds were formulated in 2016 when National MP Sir David Carter was Speaker.

They include “participants must assemble within and disperse from the grounds in an orderly manner, using the pedestrian ways so as to avoid damage to the lawns and flower beds and so as not to interfere with the flow of vehicular traffic.”

And: “Structures including tents are not permitted and, if not removed when requested, are liable for confiscation. Protests and demonstrations are only to take place during daylight hours and therefore should not continue overnight.”

All this begs the question; why are these rules not being enforced?