16 Feb 2022

ACT leader David Seymour meets with protesters: Time for a 'mature de-escalation'

9:19 pm on 16 February 2022

ACT's leader David Seymour says he has passed a message to convoy leaders that it's time for a dialogue, but only if odious elements are removed from the protest.

David Seymour

David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Seymour and ACT MP Nicole McKee accepted a request from the owner of the Backbencher pub across the road from Parliament, to meet with representatives of the group who have been protesting outside for more than a week.

The protesters have blocked roads and snarled up footpaths with vehicles and pitched tents and marquees on Parliament's lawn, and the behaviour of some has included harassment, intimidation and death threats.

Seymour this afternoon told media he and McKee met with a "couple dozen" people including someone who was in contact with the "emerging leadership", after the pub owner contacted him saying the mood had shifted.

"I think that certainly there are still some people who are raving and shouldn't be there, but I also think if you look at the change over time ... where it is right now is much more peaceful than it was," Seymour said.

"There were people there that have views on vaccinology that I just think are just absolutely out to lunch, there were also people who are vaccinated who have concerns about the way that people haven't been listened to and can't take their kids to swimming or whatever."

He said it was time for a "mature de-escalation", but the protesters needed to meet certain conditions before any MP would agree to speak to them.

"What I've said to these protest organisers through their intermediary is that there is no chance of me and I suspect any other member of Parliament being out on those steps talking to that protest while Victoria University is occupied, while the streets around Wellington and Parliament are blockaded, and while there is any chance of the kind of abuse that an MP reported just last night."

He rejected the suggestion he could be legitimising the more extreme elements of the protest.

"I think there is a genuine will to organise to get rid of the worst elements, to actually come to the table, and I think we need to start going down that track."

Protesters RNZ spoke to are certain they do not want to meet Seymour's conditions.

"I don't think we should break the line, because once we break the line, they can just come in and start towing people and I mean, it's not really impacting everything all that much," one said.

"I reckon the best thing is for him to hear the heart of the people before he puts his own conditions on," another said.

Protesters could not tell RNZ who the leader of the protest is.

'Irresponsible' - Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was irresponsible for the MPs to meet with the protesters.

"For a party that purports to be the champion of law and order or indeed businesses to meet with those who are obstructing Wellingtonians from going about their everyday lives, bullying and harassing people who are trying to go to school or work, I do think meeting with them was irresponsible.

"Again I would just send the message to the protesters - it is time to go home, and please take your children."

Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

'At this point, no' - Luxon

National's leader Christopher Luxon was similarly opposed.

"No. Our view very clearly is there's a broad range of interests there, there's a broad range of groups there, as I've said before it's a group that's impinging on other's freedoms, we respect people's right to protest but they need to be able to do that within the rule of law. And from our point of view, at this point, no."

That was despite National's Southland MP Joseph Mooney having penned a letter to Ardern raising his constituents' concerns "about the ongoing requirement for everyone to show a vaccine passport to engage in day to day life despite 95 percent of the population having been vaccinated".

Christopher Luxon

National's leader Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"I would ask that your government gives hope to the people of my region and provides certainty about what criteria and what timeline your government sees as being necessary for vaccination mandates and vaccination passports to end," Mooney's letter said.

Luxon said that fit with what he had already

"Joseph Mooney's a very passionate member for Southland, he's got a bunch of people in Queenstown who've been doing it incredibly tough, and essentially [saying] the same thing which is saying 'we want to see the criteria, we want to see the settings in order to actually ultimately remove mandates.

"Once we're clear on criteria then we can get into timing from there."

Save the Children petition overshadowed

Some of the more extreme rhetoric around the protest has been shared by Counterspin Media, associated with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' US site Infowars.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson was approached by someone from the Counterspin at the back of Parliament this afternoon while accepting a petition from Save the Children, which called for the independence of the Children's Commissioner not to be eroded in new legislation.

"We are unable to receive it on the front steps at the moment," she said.

"I don't want to give too much oxygen to what happened with a protester - it was rude, the vibe was intimidatory and it was overriding a really important kaupapa about protecting our children as a nation. In all honesty I was infuriated by the interruption."

Marama Davidson

Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She said her security provisions had been increased as a result of the protest, and the Green Party would not be meeting with the protesters on the forecourt.

"Today just reiterates what sort of a vibe and the level of intimidation and harassment. What other politicians do is up to them but we do not want to give further platform to an irrational movement that is also platforming conspiracy, misinformation and disinformation that is harmful."

"We've been very clear that we support the mandates, particularly for people on the frontline in health or child wellbeing situations - so schools and the health sector."

She disagreed with the idea the more extreme elements of the protest had departed.

"You cannot disassociate a founding fundamental driver of a movement - whether there are two people out there or 2000, the fact remains that one of the fundamental drivers of this movement are extreme and violent, harmful vibes."

Seymour himself said he would not engage with the protests if Counterspin was still involved.

"So long as they have any influence over this protest, I'm not going to be part of it. The question is can you silence them completely? ... the question is can the protesters end up with some leadership and rules."

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