Protesters' camp at Ōwairaka / Mt Albert removed for alleged lockdown breach

6:56 pm on 15 April 2020

The protest camp at Ōwairaka has been removed because it allegedly breached the alert level 4 lockdown rules.

Plans for vegetation on Ōwairaka-Mt Albert

Photo: Tūpuna Maunga Authority

The group has been occupying the site since November in opposition of the planned felling of non-native trees.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority said the protesters had been unlawfully encouraging its members to maintain a constant presence at Ōwairaka by working in surveillance shifts.

Authority chair Paul Majurey said their activities were in clear breach of the lockdown rules, and the removal was necessary to protect the health and safety of people as the Covid-19 crisis continued.

"There have been specific sightings of people congregating in this unlawful campground and using it. The most recent example that gave rise to take action, with the support of the police, was on the 12th of April that new signage was put in place at the camp and so clearly people have been in and around the camp," Majurey said.

Tupuna Maunga o Tamaki Makaurau Authority chairman Paul Majurey

Tūpuna Maunga Authority chair Paul Majurey. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"They weren't in the area for recreation which we know is authorised but they were undertaking unlawful action in terms of the Covid-19 restrictions," Majurey said.

He said two truckloads were removed from the site early this morning and they had been stored to be returned to their owners after the lockdown was lifted.

"The protest group has flaunted those [lockdown] rules by remaining active at the encampment, placing themselves and others at risk. The Authority was forced to take the responsible step of removing the encampment to eliminate the chance of further gatherings and activity not compliant with lockdown rules," Majurey said.

Protest group Honour the Maunga spokesperson Anna Radford rejected those claims.

"They [the Authority] have snuck in under the cover of darkness for some strange reason and removed everything. We do question whether that is an essential activity given nothing there was occupied and was posing no risk."

Radford said they were not deterred and were committed to reoccupy as soon as they could to save the trees at Ōwairaka / Mt Albert.

She said their occupation since 11 November was not illegal under the Bill of Rights as it was a public place.

However, the Authority said structures being put up on a reserve without consent - which the protesters had never sought - was unlawful.

A judicial review over the restoration project at the High Court in Auckland has been set down for June this year.

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