14 Feb 2022

Police negotiators making 'good progress' in bid to end occupation of Parliament's grounds

12:01 pm on 14 February 2022

Police have crack negotiators on the job trying to end the occupation of Parliament's grounds, Wellington's police district commander says.

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Wellington district commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell says the priority today is clearing the capital's streets. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The anti-vaccination protest within the grounds of Parliament is entering its seventh day.

Wellington district commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell told Morning Report police negotiations continue to be hampered due to a lack of leadership among the protesters.

Since the 120 arrests on Thursday, police have been trying to open lines of communication with them and have brought in extra police staff from around the country with the aim of restoring the grounds of Parliament to their normal state.

He said the lack of leadership because so many different groups are represented has made open lines of communication difficult.

"We're making some good progress there and we've got the best of the best in terms of our New Zealand police resource there in terms of negotiation teams. We'll continue to use that and explore that as one of our key tactics."

Police are also appealing to protesters camped at Parliament to work with them to try to clear the streets of Wellington today.

Protesters' vans and cars blocking the corner of Molesworth St and Hill St outside Parliament grounds, and tarpaulin awnings set up on the footpath.

Protesters' vans and cars blocking the corner of Molesworth St and Hill St outside Parliament grounds, and tarpaulin awnings set up on the footpath. Photo: RNZ

Music played by protesters and through the Parliamentary speakers competed on Saturday night.

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

They say Sky Stadium has agreed to help by providing a safe parking facility for protesters' vehicles from this evening. This is expected to be from 6.30pm tonight.

The convoy protest has been camped out for nearly a week, with 3000 people attending over the weekend.

Parnell said the main police priority today will be freeing up movement around the capital's streets.

Yesterday he appealed to vehicle owners to get in touch so that their vehicles could be moved to an alternative site although he would not say where that is.

"I can only urge those people to work with us. Let's get you to an area where we can free up those streets of Wellington because that really is causing extensive disruption to normal Wellingtonians."

He refused to comment on Speaker Trevor Mallard's decision to use sprinklers and repetitive annoying music, except to say they were not tactics police would endorse.

The awful weather over the weekend had also failed to dislodge "a hardcore of protesters".

"This is not a matter of, if you look at the global stage where this is playing out, arresting your way out of it. That comes with implications on multiple levels."

The protest was unlawful, he said, with public ways being obstructed.

Asked if it was a mistake to allow protesters to erect their tents, he said hindsight was "a wonderful thing".

"History will probably write the book there... We look to primarily move those grounds back to where they're lawfully protesting."

Misinformation spreading rapidly - researcher

A researcher into misinformation says toxic messaging has taken a worrying foothold in Aotearoa - and should have lawmakers in this country on high alert.

Sanjana Hattotuwa monitors online extremism for Te Pūnaha Matatini's Disinformation Project.

He said what began as a relatively innocent convoy to protest vaccination mandates has been hijacked by a handful of "actors" trying to challenge New Zealand's way of life.

He told Morning Report the messaging seen online over the last week was unprecedented.

"These are divisive harmful violent messages that frame the convoy and they've hijacked it as an idea. I want to be make it very very clear - this is not about the people in front of the Beehive.

"This is about the convoy as it is projected and promoted online by disinformation agents."

He used some figures he has analysed over the last week to illustrate his conclusions.

On Facebook there have been 165,000 interactions (likes, comments, shares) of the protest groups' posts. The mainstream New Zealand media has only generated 68,000.

For videos the groups have posted 365 videos generating 4.9 million views in the last week while 276 videos by mainstream media have generated 5.5m views.

It was most disturbing that misinformation videos have been shared 1.1m times while mainstream media videos have been shared 476,000 times, Hattotuwa said.

"So these figures are an idea of a sharp division, a splintered reality is what I call it insofar as how the convoy is being perceived, depending on which media you choose to trust ... that is going to hit hard social cohesion in Aotearoa moving forward."

He blamed "a handful of actors" pushing and propagating the harmful messaging on a number of platforms.

"The argument is not really about mandates... It's about desecration, denigration and destruction and the frames are really very harmful."

The targets were anyone who didn't agree with them, including the government, mainstream media and academics.

"We call them [those posting the messages] superspreaders."

Hattotuwa said many things had to change in Christchurch after its earthquakes and the country will need to make many responses to the convoy.

"This is a Christchurch earthquake moment for the country..."

He said challenges were being made to the country's social and political fabric, the way of life, liberal values, democractic traditions and and it was expanding at pace.

"So it is very worrying on a number of fronts."

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Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Personal freedom overrides greater good - former MP

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Former MP Matt King Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The most recognisable person associated with the protest to date is former National Party MP Matt King, who spent the weekend in Wellington and addressed the trespassed occupiers on Saturday, stressing the need to be peaceful.

He also told them he had resigned from the National Party.

King told Morning Report protesters would leave the grounds of Parliament if the government set a date for removing mandates.

If the date was set for "the very near future" the grounds would be cleared within a day or two, he said.

"The people who are out there just want the mandates gone ... it's not about vaccines, it's about choice, it's about our personal rights, our basic freedoms."

He described mandates as "a breach of our basic human right to decide what goes into our body".

Asked if an asthmatic child has a right to know that their teacher or nurse is vaccinated, he said the reality of deciding what goes into your body overrules "any of that greater good".

"There are people that are losing their jobs all over this country because of these mandates; they are unfair and unjust..."

It was "the grossest, most unfair thing ever", that people were losing their jobs.

While more than 4 million New Zealanders have been vaccinated, many did not support the mandates, he added.

Reminded that polls showed the vast majority also supported mandates, he disputed their findings.

He said he has spoken to many of those involved in the protest and does not believe they are making violent threats to kill politicians and journalists but are instead "true-blue Kiwis".

The National Party said it does not support the actions or anti-vaccination messages of the protesters.

Meanwhile, a Wellington cafe owner wants financial support from the government for businesses that have experienced disruption because of the protest at Parliament.

A Lambton Quay business owner who didn't want to be named told RNZ some protesters have intimidated and frightened her staff.

She said because of the disruption her income has plummeted by 60 percent and she will struggle to pay rent.

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