5 Mar 2022

National MP: Party members were meeting with Parliament protesters

8:54 pm on 5 March 2022

National MP Maureen Pugh has claimed members of the party were talking with protesters on an almost daily basis.

National MP Maureen Pugh in Select Committee

National MP Maureen Pugh Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

However, the National Party said no one was sent from the party to talk to the anti-mandate protesters camped out on Parliament's lawn for three weeks.

Pugh's comments came in response to a member of the public on Facebook who questioned why the National Party had ignored the protesters at Parliament.

"I always read your posts but can see nothing about why you all decided to not to talk to the ones on the ground. Why did you side with the Ardern government why? Luxton [sic] and the party you represent did nothing," said the social media post, by a person who according to her Facebook profile lives in the West Coast-Tasman electorate which Pugh has unsuccessfully contested since 2014.

In response, Pugh claimed "we had one or two members in there talking with protestors on an almost daily basis".

"We have no control over what the Speaker does in relation to the grounds, and certainly not what the PM does. Biggest challenge was the crowd itself deciding who the spokespeople were who would be speaking for the various groups who were represented. By the time they identified them the crowd and the messages were very mixed. Then we wrote to the only email address we had and said we would enter dialogue as soon as they stopped the unlawful aspects to their protest."

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Photo: Supplied / RNZ

She later clarified she meant party members and not MPs.

During the protests, National Party leader Christopher Luxon said he would not be negotiating with the protesters, who ranged from "white supremacists to Māori separatists and everything in-between".

It was part of a united front from MPs of all parties in disapproving of the protest which occupied Parliament's lawn and the surrounding streets for 23 days and ultimately ended in a violent riot.

Attempts to contact Pugh were unsuccessful.

RNZ asked Luxon if Pugh's claims that party members met with protesters on an almost daily basis were correct, and whether he was aware of that.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said "Maureen has clarified that she was referring to party members. The National Party caucus was united with all other parties that they would not engage in discussions with the protestors unless they became lawful and peaceful, which they did not."

When pressed by RNZ on whether Pugh was correct and National Party members were liaising with the protesters and, if so, whether Luxon was aware of it, a spokesperson responded:

"Party leaders don't have a say on what individual members choose to do. National did not send anyone - MPs, members or otherwise - to enter in discussions with protestors. However we are aware of party members who attended the protest of their own accord, just as there would have been members of other parties."

Today's posts by Pugh follow a Facebook post last month in which she expressed her thanks to the protesters.

Pugh later edited the post before deleting it entirely, saying she did not know some of the protesters were anti-vaccination.

The former Westland District Mayor was one of the last National MPs to get vaccinated, only getting her first dose in October, according to reporting by the New Zealand Herald.

Her caucus colleague, Whanganui List MP Harete Hipango, attended a protest organised by antivax group Voices For Freedom, before later claiming she was unaware of the message behind the protest.

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