Ihumātao: Auckland councillors call for reduced police presence

7:32 pm on 6 August 2019

Two Auckland city councillors say an increased police presence at Ihumātao has run roughshod over the prime minister's commitment to enter peaceful and honest talks with protesters.

Otara Health chairperson Efeso Collins.

Efeso Collins Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Dozens of police officers were at the disputed land in South Auckland overnight, blocking Ihumātao Quarry Road, with crowds of protesters standing in front of them.

The group which is trying to stop a housing development said they felt intimidated after some of them were blocked in at the frontline by officers.

Police said misinformation was circulating about what happened at Ihumātao and their officers had been subject to verbal and physical abuse from protesters.

One protester Amiria Puia-Taylor said when she arrived last night there was a lot of commotion and anxiety and they struggled to get supplies of blankets, food and water to protesters.

"We had over 100 police officers in this small area," she said.

"It's a shocking and very intimidating experience, especially when you know that we're all here in good faith just to manaaki the whenua. That's quite a traumatising experience."

She said the impasse was broken by negotiations with police at about 1am today.

Councillor Efeso Collins said he was disappointed and saddened.

"The police presence is a complete overkill, it's unjustified," he said.

"The government, the prime minister, has committed to really constructive talks for both iwi and all the parties involved and I don't think you set up the conditions for constructive talks by sending in more police.

"The cops need to be told to calm down and back off."

Cathy Casey at a Council meeting about the Unitary Plan. 10 August 2016.

Cathy Casey Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Councillor Cathy Casey said the council unanimously supported a motion to bring all parties together to facilitate a peaceful outcome and the prime minister was also seeking a negotiated settlement.

"We call on the government to show good faith in their commitment to resolving the crisis by reducing the police presence," she said.

Following Mr Collins' tweets Auckland Council governance director Phil Wilson said council resources should "always be directed at promoting decisions or work programmes of the council and not personal political positions".

"Cr Casey confirms that she had in fact been given the media list asked for and had been able to send out her media release - her request was not refused.

During the lead-up to local body elections the council had guidelines to ensure council resources were used appropriately, he said.

"The guidelines ensure that sitting members don't enjoy advantages over others standing for office and avoid use of staff time and council resources for personal or political purposes. Members are of course able to send out whatever personal communications they wish to."

Minister for Māori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis said he supported a peaceful solution to the dispute.

"We support the process that the Kīngitanga is leading," he said.

"I think it's important that the parties go to the table. And it was good to see that de-escalation overnight."

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Police officers standing at the previous frontline, with occupiers who moved their tents camping further on in Ihumātao

Police officers standing at the previous frontline, with occupiers who moved their tents camping further on in Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

Counties Manukau district commander superintendent Jill Rogers said police held regular meetings with organisers to ensure protest action remained peaceful.

"Yesterday, during a meeting with organisers, the protesters communicated their intent to move past the cordon and reoccupy the land," she said.

"In response to this police was required to increase our presence at the site.

"Despite repeated warnings from police, a large group of protesters attempted to bypass the police cordon. Police attempted to stop those trespassing, but protesters pushed their way past our staff.

"The protesters eventually vacated the private land and no arrests were made. Police reject allegations that a protester was pushed over.

"There is misinformation being circulated suggesting that police have broken agreements with protesters. Police cannot facilitate unlawful activity by allowing protesters who have been served an eviction notice to trespass on private land."

She said staff, who were removed from other duties to come to Ihumātao, showed incredible professionalism last night, and throughout the last two weeks "despite at times being subjected to verbal abuse, being physically shoved and even in some cases being spat on".

Other protests have taken place around the country as part of a national day of action.

Demonstrators picketed the construction company Fletcher Building in South Auckland during this morning's rush hour.

Hundreds of people have gathered outside Parliament in solidarity for those occupying Ihumātao.

Hundreds gathered outside Parliament in solidarity for those occupying Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Māni Dunlop

One protester there, Maureen Tana, said there had been lots of beeping and waving from passing motorists.

"We want to protect Ihumātao for future generations to come," she said.

"Their 500 or so houses, they might line their pockets but you've got to think about the big picture forever and ever for all the generations and protect this sacred land."

Qiane Matata-Sipu, a mana whenua representative from the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) group told Checkpoint it was hard to trust police after last night's fiasco.

"But we do have to have faith that moving forward we can work together so we're always open to having those discussions."

"Having more than 100 police show up last night during karakia was a surprise."

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