Political leaders should 'get off their high horses' - Jim Bolger

8:52 am on 22 February 2022

Former prime minister Jim Bolger says political leaders should "get off their high horses" and meet with those occupying Parliament's lawn.

Jim Bolger

Former prime minister Jim Bolger says he believes the statement issued last week on behalf of all parties by the Speaker about the protest was a mistake. (File image) Photo: RNZ

Bolger, who saw many protests during his time on the ninth floor, has weighed in on the anti-Covid-19 vaccine mandate protest to say dialogue is the way forward.

"I think the government, and I'd include all the other parties in government ... just need to get off their high horse and try and identify credible spokespeople as the police clearly have.

"I'm sure the prime minister can talk to the police commissioner and find out who these people are and just listen to their complaints; they may not do anything about the complaints but just listen to them."

The former National Party leader served as prime minister between 1990 and 1997, including during the 79-day land occupation of Pākaitore (Moutoa Gardens) in Whanganui in 1995.

The iwi-led protest ended peacefully with hundreds of protesters vacating the land after a tripartite agreement was signed with local and central governments.

Bolger cannot recall the finer details of the event today but said he was sure politicians met with those occupying Pākaitore to end what was "a very long protest".

He said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed to acknowledge and accept there was a disgruntled group of New Zealanders who wanted to speak with her.

"She should take with her the other leaders of the political party so it's not a partisan issue and just listen to what they have to say; nothing complex, nothing frightening, nobody's threatened; just listen."

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The protesters outside Parliament, pictured on 18 February, 2022. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The occupation of Parliament has been marred by abuse and threats towards those trying to go about their lives, while signs have called for the executions of politicians, scientists, and journalists.

Bolger said he was not suggesting political leaders engage with fringe or extreme factions of the protest but that there was merit in speaking to those with legitimate concerns.

"The essential principle of democracy is that leaders listen to people and I am not certain that the prime minister has got it right by saying she won't listen to people.

"I don't know what she's fearful of; she doesn't have to obey them but she can listen to them. There are a lot of disgruntled New Zealanders, and they want to have their voice heard."

The occupation has caused major disruption in Wellington; blocking roads, shutting down businesses and forcing the closure of Victoria University's Pipitea campus.

Parliamentarians issued an ultimatum last week; each party signing a statement that said politicians would not speak with protesters until all illegal activity is put to a stop.

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Protesters' vehicles parked on streets around Parliament have been blocking the roads. (pictured 18 February, 2022) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Bolger believed this was a mistake as speaking with protesters would have removed a major criticism held by the illegal encampment that no one was listening to their concerns.

"The joint letter was a mistake. It demanded complete capitulation by those who felt they needed to be heard. That wasn't going to happen. So they should just park as a mistake; we all make mistakes; they make mistakes. That's not the issue.

"What they mustn't do is just stand on their high horse and say, well, everything has to follow our rules. Democracies are actually the other way around. Those who are elected have to follow the dictates of those who elect them."

Ardern's position on meeting with protesters has not wavered since the occupation at Parliament began, and yesterday, she reiterated she would not be making decisions based on those out front.

"We all want to go back to the way life was, and we will, I suspect sooner than you think. But when that happens it will be because easing restrictions won't compromise the life of thousands of people - not because you demand it."

Bolger acknowledged the challenges posed by modern technology and said he would not be surprised if some protesters were being bankrolled by people in America's far-right.

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