2 Nov 2022

Groundswell aims to distance itself from Voices for Freedom

1:37 pm on 2 November 2022
Farmers arrive on tractors in Auckland CBD for Groundswell protest on 20 October 2022.

Farmers arrive on tractors in Auckland CBD for a Groundswell protest on 20 October 2022. Photo: RNZ / Mohammad Alafeshat

Farmer protest group Groundswell is distancing itself from the Voices For Freedom movement.

Members of the anti-vaccination group turned up in large numbers to last month's Groundswell-organised protest against the government's proposal for a farm-level emissions pricing scheme.

Activity on Voices For Freedom's social media channels showed they made a concerted effort to take part in the action.

In the days leading up to the Groundswell protest, messages on Telegram channels associated with Voices for Freedom urged its members to take part.

Groundswell had distanced itself from the movement last year, and did not take part in the occupation of Parliament in February and March.

That was not lost on Voices For Freedom's followers, with some questioning why they were expected to support Groundswell's protest.

It led co-founder Claire Deeks to address the situation in a podcast leading up to the protest a fortnight ago.

"We are taking the high road in this situation," she said.

"We don't think it's the time to be tit-for-tat. This is the issues we care about ... we are not affiliated with Groundswell. We just believe the agricultural sector needs our support."

In a post shared on numerous Telegram channels, the group said it had spoken with Groundswell's leaders, who were "very happy to have all hands on deck".

Groundswell co-founder Bryce McKenzie said that was not how he would put it.

"I wouldn't have said that I was happy.

"I was more thinking that we couldn't stop them anyway, so we may as well make sure the messaging is on line."

Voices For Freedom's plea to join in was clearly successful with the group appearing to account for the majority of protesters in some of the main centres.

McKenzie acknowledged there was a crossover.

"There's some very good people in Voices For Freedom. The movement, I don't agree with a lot of what they do, but some of the people are very good and there is a crossover between one and the other, and I've got to be mindful that some of those people do cross over into Groundswell."

There were no formal links between the two groups and none of Groundswell's leadership committee were involved in Voices For Freedom, McKenzie said.

However, Groundswell's Auckland co-ordinator Scotty Bright was recognised at a Voices For Freedom awards evening in September.

McKenzie was unaware of the award.

Bright had also previously attracted attention through association with the Destiny Church-affiliated Freedoms & Rights Coalition.

At Groundswell's protest in Dunedin people were handing out pamphlets pushing conspiracy theories about the UN.

The material included the phone number for Gill Booth - a recently elected member of the Teviot Valley community board in Central Otago, who referenced being a co-ordinator and steering committee member for Groundswell during the election.

Booth regularly touts conspiracy theories on Voices For Freedom podcasts.

"Gill Booth has occasionally helped us out in the past, and that's quite common knowledge," McKenzie said

"I knew Gill long before Groundswell came up. I think she's extreme and I continually tell her that."

McKenzie said he disagreed with conspiracy theories about the UN and was broadly supportive of its sustainable development goals.

He was also vaccinated against Covid-19.

In a statement, Voices For Freedom co-founder Alia Bland said the group had advocated for farmers since its beginning.

Its current online campaign claimed "Farming is under attack".

"VFF is running a campaign to educate and assist people in standing up for their rights. The Donate button on our website is a permanent feature. While we do run fundraising drives from time to time, there is no specific request for funds relating to this campaign," Bland said.

"The restrictions currently facing NZ farmers represent a larger issue playing out globally. In much the same way as the vaccine mandates began with a specific limited group and proceeded to impact almost every New Zealander despite government promises to the contrary, VFF sees the unworkable conditions imposed on the farming sector as the thin end of a large wedge. It is wise to oppose problematic legislation before it spreads to the wider society."