23 Feb 2022

PM Jacinda Ardern on being verbally abused: 'I choose not to focus on what is often a small handful of people'

8:08 pm on 23 February 2022

After being verbally abused this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there have been people opposed to vaccinations ever since the campaign started.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited the West Coast, which was damaged by severe weather early this month.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Ardern spoke to media on the West Coast.

On people being opposed to vaccinations, Ardern says: "It's not new. I choose not to focus on what is often a small handful of people, instead rather focus on the majority of people who have gone out, 95 percent of them have been vaccinated - and that is what's going to get us through."

Asked about the presence of NZ First leader Winston Peters among the protesters on Parliament grounds yesterday, Ardern says that's a decision for him.

"Ultimately those are decisions for Parliamentarians past and present to make themselves. I stand firmly on the view that we should not be emboldening people who are acting illegally, confronting our police with everything from human waste to reportedly chemicals in response to them simply doing their job."

She says the fact all Parliamentarians released a combined statement saying they would not be engaging with protesters acting illegally sent a strong message.

Asked about the protesters' violence yesterday, she says they simply cannot expect to behave illegally, throw human waste at police officers, and then expect to have a sit-down meeting with those who make the law.

She says the vast majority of protest she's experienced in her time in politics have been peaceful.

Covid-19 testing

On testing capacity, Ardern says there is a large demand for testing right now and although rapid antigen tests aren't as good as PCR tests, they will help ease that demand.

She says her message to New Zealanders is only to be tested if they are symptomatic, are close contacts, or have been asked by officials to be tested.

"When we're not in a position to be able to run samples in pooling, that does mean our capacity does reduce down, it's all about how though we're able to distribute it across the network. Our testing and processing is run through a series of private labs, so it takes a whole lot of coordination to make sure that where there's high demand we're moving lab tests back into other labs with extra capacity."

Rapid antigen tests help in that regard because they give a result on the spot and don't need to be sent for testing.

NZ's position on Ukraine crisis

On Russia and Ukraine, Ardern says the Russian ambassador has been called in to send a clear message about New Zealand's position on what's happening.

"Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial authority must be upheld, and what's happening now directly undermines that. New Zealand will be sending that message as strongly as possible."

She says New Zealand does have the ability to impose sanctions, though it has traditionally taken a multilateral approach through the UN.

She says New Zealand does not require a law for autonomous sanctions in order to take action.

"That's not the only thing we can do. Travel bans, export controls, diplomatic measures like calling in ambassadors, those are all measures that sit within New Zealand's toolkit and that we are willing to use."

She says New Zealand has advised New Zealanders in Ukraine to come home if they are willing to do so, and they would fit within the criteria to be immediately supported into managed isolation.

Within a few weeks they would not be required to enter MIQ anyway, under the government's reopening plan.

PM on West Coast damage

In her stand-up, Ardern spoke about the West Coast being damaged by severe weather early this month.

The region suffered days of record-breaking heavy rain, swollen rivers and king tides in early February, leading hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and closing several main roads.

Westport residents evacuated the town twice in less than a week and several homes and farms were left water-damaged.

Visiting the town today, Ardern said there would be two stages to the recovery.

She said work would be done to plan for the future for West Coast residents whose homes were inundated with water for the second time in less than a year.

Critical needs like water infrastructure would be addressed immediately, she said, but residents also needed long-term certainty that their homes would be safe.

Ardern says her visit to the West Coast has been a chance to check in again with a community that has been hit by severe weather twice in a short period of time.

She says the government has announced additional funding today for Taskforce Green, which means those on farm and who have been on the West Coast affected by flooding are able to access workforce and support to help with the clean up.

The government has already given $300,000 to help with the cleanup. Classification of the event as a medium-scale adverse event also unlocked $200,000 for farmers and growers, and $100,000 was put into the Mayoral Relief Fund.

Ardern says flood protection deficiencies are a problem not just on the West Coast but in other areas around the country. She says care needs to be taken to ensure that homes are being built in a safe place.

It would be too simple to say that things like flood walls would fix the problem heading into the future, with climate change promising to bring more frequent extreme weather.

She says the government is exploring all the options to ensure people can plan for the future, "even if the answers are hard".

Ardern says in contrast to the July flooding, farmland and rural areas have been hit really hard by this event.

She says the government knows it must work with councils to build greater resilience on the West Coast.

Ardern says after immediate remedial activity, the council has begun to work up plans about what water infrastructure is needed, and has a long list of roading projects.

She says the government is not going to dictate to the community what their future will look like.

On capital gains tax

Ardern says she has already given a commitment she will not introduce a capital gains tax while she is leader of the Labour Party.

"I won't change my position on the CGT, but there are many other things that we can do to make a material difference to housing prices and affordability," she says.