blog feb 16


New record: Omicron cases top 1,000

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 16. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can get in touch with me on

The latest

blog feb 16

New record: Omicron cases top 1,000

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 16. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can get in touch with me on

The latest

Feb 16 2022

The parliament protest and Trevor Mallard’s iPod: New episode of Gone By Lunchtime out now

As the anti-mandate occupation of parliament grounds enters its ninth day, a brand new episode of The Spinoff’s political podcast Gone By Lunchtime asks: Just who are the protesters? Have the police got the response right? What about Trevor Mallard? And is it a good idea to engage? Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas discuss all this and more, including the latest from the Auckland mayoral race.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

‘Not responsible’: Ardern criticises Seymour for meeting protesters

Jacinda Ardern addresses media at the Beehive. (Photo by Robert Kitchin – Pool/Getty Images)

The prime minister has criticised David Seymour for meeting with some of the anti-mandate protesters, calling it irresponsible.

So far, Seymour is the only party leader to have met with anyone from the protest group camped up outside parliament. Both Jacinda Ardern and Christopher Luxon have refused to engage with the rally.

Speaking to media, Ardern said she did not back Seymour’s decision. “I don’t think it was a responsible thing to do for a party that champions law and order,” she said.

Today is the ninth day that protesters have been occupying parliament grounds. While police said they planned to start towing illegally parked vehicles today, this has yet to happen.

Ardern said those in Wellington deserved a return to normality. “Every party should be focused on two things, making sure we’re working hard to protect New Zealanders during this pandemic and second thing is that there is activity outside that has tipped into illegal activity,” she said. “The focus needs to be removing the illegal activity blocking Wellingtonians lives.”

A message from editor Madeleine Chapman

Times are tough for a lot of people at the moment. The Spinoff is both experiencing the pinch and working hard to tell the stories from every sector. If you aren’t in a position to make a contribution right now, ask your boss to consider an organisation membership.

Share the load and help us continue telling stories from all around Aotearoa –  for more info on how to donate as an organisation.

1,160 new community Covid-19 cases – first four digit day

Image: Toby Morris

For the first time, daily cases of Covid-19 have hit four digits with 1,160 recorded in the community alone.

Of those, 861 are in Auckland with the remainder spread across the entire country. New cases were also confirmed in Northland (24), Waikato (73), Bay of Plenty (33), Lakes (5), Hawke’s Bay (15), MidCentral (3), Whanganui (4), Taranaki (9), Tairāwhiti (9), Wairarapa (5), Capital and Coast (32), Hutt Valley (20), Nelson Marlborough (15), Canterbury (8), South Canterbury (3) and Southern (39).

Two of today’s cases have so far not been linked to a DHB region.

At the border, another 43 cases were registered.

Covid-related hospitalisations have also jumped – there are currently 56 cases being treated. There are no Covid-19 cases in intensive care.

The number of Covid tests yesterday was above the seven day average, with 28,140 swabs administered.

The Ministry of Health reminded people to keep using the Covid Tracer app as case numbers increased. “Keeping a record of where you have been will enable you to quickly identify whether you’ve been at a location of interest,” said a ministry spokesperson. “It will also enable you to quickly contact your contacts if you become a case. Keeping Bluetooth enabled also helps you anonymously protect people you’ve been near.”

The ministry also reminded people only to get tested for Covid-19 if they are close contacts, symptomatic, or have been directed to get tested by a health official. “There is good testing capacity throughout the country, but unnecessary testing could delay results for those who urgently need them,” said the ministry.

On the vaccine front, another 46,156 booster doses were administered across the country yesterday.

For more pandemic-related data and analysis, visit The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here

Image: Toby Morris

National lodges motion of no confidence in Trevor Mallard

Speaker of the house Trevor Mallard (Photo: Getty Images/Lynn Grieveson)

The National Party has lodged a motion of no confidence in Trevor Mallard, the speaker of the house.

Mallard’s drawn criticism from opposition MPs this week after his decision to turn the sprinklers on protesters gathered outside parliament. He also attempted to drown out protester speeches with annoying music and Covid-19 vaccination ads.

Shadow leader of the house Chris Bishop said Mallard’s behaviour has been unedifying, embarrassing and childish. “Many New Zealanders are appalled and so are we,” said Bishop. “You can disagree with people without disrespecting them, and Mallard’s petulant behaviour has only inflamed an already tense situation.”

Bishop said expressing no confidence in Mallard has not been done lightly – and was a serious action. “It is clear Mr Mallard’s actions have made the situation worse, not better,” he said. 

“The fact that prime minister Jacinda Ardern will not express a view on Mallard’s actions should speak volumes. She should now drop her support of him and replace him with a new speaker who can command respect across the parliament but also among the wider public.”

Ardern has so far drawn a distinction between Mallard’s role as speaker and hers as prime minister.

Speaker of the house Trevor Mallard (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

It was almost exactly one year ago that National last tried to boot Mallard out of the speaker’s chair. The speaker was then facing pressure after it was revealed more than $300,000 of taxpayers money was spent to cover a legal dispute.

Today’s motion, in full:

That the House has no confidence in the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard as Speaker of the House of Representatives due to his childish, provocative and embarrassing behaviour during the occupation of and protest at Parliament grounds in February 2022, which was counterproductive to resolving the situation and done without the support of the New Zealand Police.

New poll shows gap between Labour and National closing

The debating chamber at parliament. Photo:

A new poll has National just four points below Labour.

The Taxpayers Union Curia poll, reported on by the Herald, has seen Labour up one point to 42%. National jumped five points up to 38%. That’s shifted the gap between the left and right bloc considerably closer, with both the Greens and Act sitting around the 7% mark.

“This poll shows that not only has National stopped bleeding support to Act, but it has started to gain back some of its former voters who voted Act in 2020,” said pollster David Farrar in an email to poll subscribers.

“Of course this might just be a harsh sample for Act, so it would be unwise to conclude this is happening until we get further data.”

Act Party meets with protest representatives

David Seymour and his caucus (Image / Getty)

Act’s David Seymour and Nicole McKee have met with representatives from the group protesting outside parliament. They’re the first MPs to meet with anyone from the crowd occupying the grounds around the Beehive.

Despite accepting the offer to meet, Seymour said he will not be listening to the protesters demands until they clear the streets and stop any unacceptable behaviour.

“The owner of the Backbencher [a nearby pub] contacted me yesterday and asked me to meet with representatives of the protesters in the hope of ending the protest and allowing him, and other Wellingtonians, to get on with their lives,” said Seymour.

“He assured me the unacceptable, anti-social elements of the protest are dispersing.”

Until today, Seymour said he had been reluctant to meet with protestors given the abuse they had directed at members of the public, journalists and politicians. “I condemn those actions,” he said.

But: “It’s possible to disagree with people without ignoring them. The people in this protest are ultimately human, and part of New Zealand. We need a mature de-escalation from this sorry situation in order that we can glue this country back together.”

Trevor Mallard says sprinklers were used to ‘dilute shit and urine’

Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)

Speaker of the house Trevor Mallard has defended turning the sprinklers on protesters, saying he decided to do so after seeing people defecating on parliament’s lawn.

Mallard also repeatedly played annoying music over the loud speakers, along with adverts for the Covid-19 vaccine.

In an interview with the Herald’s Audrey Young, the speaker said he stood by his actions. “Diluting a bit of the shit and urine was not a major issue for me,” he said.

Mallard said there were “clearly people with deeply held beliefs” among the protest group, but that a lot also “believe stuff I regard as crap.” The vast majority of the protesters had behaved really well, he said, but there have been more badly behaved people.

“It is the biggest collection of ferals that I’ve seen,” Mallard added.

This isn’t Mallard’s first interaction with protesters – but usually he’s found on the other side. The speaker has a long history with protests, dating back to the Springbok Tour. But the parliament occupation was different, said Mallard, citing the death threats directed at MPs and journalists.

“It is not the way we do things in New Zealand. And the old protester talking again – you’ve got to have some appeal to the people whose minds you are trying to change and threatening to kill people is not widely seen as a good tactic.”

Today is the ninth day protesters have been on parliament grounds.

Read the full interview here

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Subscribe here and receive seven issues for the price of six, including the latest issue on sale now.

‘Inundated with death threats’: Wellington tow companies abused by protesters

Protesters’ cars blocking Molesworth St outside parliament (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

Plans to tow vehicles from the Wellington protest may not go smoothly, as regional towing operators are refusing to participate in order to protect the safety of their staff.

Towing operators in the Wellington region spoken to by The Spinoff report a constant barrage of abuse and threats that began as the protest convoy arrived in the city last week, with one operator even reporting having received a call from a participant in the Canadian convoy in support of their New Zealand compatriots.

“We have been inundated with death threats and threats on our business,” one operator told The Spinoff by phone. “There are some points where we are getting phone calls every minute. They’re just clogging up the phone line so we can’t take jobs.”

Another company, when reached by phone by The Spinoff, was immediately at pains to stay out of the story, “we don’t want anything in regards to our company… we have had threats, we have had emails. So we don’t want our name mentioned, or anything,” we were told before the call was ended.

The Spinoff understands that authorities in Wellington have even suggested to operators that they would be willing to repaint tow vehicles in order to protect company identities, and had perhaps even been looking at buying new tow vehicles for the purpose.

“I can’t put my staff at risk like that,” said one of the operators of any involvement in towing protesters’ vehicles. Of suggestions that the military may be brought in to assist the towing operator explained that military staff didn’t have commercial towing experience such as that necessary to remove vehicles without cooperation from the owners without causing damage. They may still need assistance from commercial tow drivers, the company operator suggested, which they didn’t believe local towing companies would be willing to offer.

A number of the towing companies spoken to by The Spinoff reported that, even now, they wouldn’t accept towing jobs anywhere near the protest because of concerns for the safety of staff.

In contrast, one tow truck operator told RNZ this morning that they were aware of towies choosing not to help police because they sympathised with the protesters’ cause.

Luxon: National stands for inclusiveness despite MPs voting against conversion therapy ban

Christopher Luxon (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

National leader Christopher Luxon has defended the decision of eight of his MPs to vote against banning conversion therapy – but said he is personally pleased the law passed.

Parliament was almost entirely united in support of the ban, with 112 votes in support and just the eight National MPs against.

During an appearance on TVNZ’s Breakfast, host Matty McLean quoted Simon Bridges who in 2019 said: “National is about diversity, inclusiveness, and… making sure New Zealand’s a place you can be who you are.” Bridges last night voted against banning conversion therapy.

In response, Luxon said National does stand for diversity and inclusiveness. “I am a big supporter of the rainbow community,” he said. “It was a conscience vote, so it’s left for each individual to work out how they want to vote.”

Luxon said there could be MPs in other parties who would personally have voted against the ban, but said other parties were likely “whipped” to vote along party lines. “Bottom line for me, it is a good piece of legislation, it’s really great that it’s passed, [conversion therapy] is an abhorrent practice,” said Luxon.

Asked by McLean whether the votes by those eight National MPs could turn people off voting for the party, Luxon said he intended to lead a “national National party.” He added: “We need to be able to talk to all communities across New Zealand.”

Petition to turn muddied parliament lawn into wildflower garden

The grounds of parliament. Photograph: Getty

Never let a good crisis go to waste, said Winston Churchill, and that spirit is captured in a new petition that has been launched responding to the protest (and carnage) at parliament over the last week and a bit. Posted on the official parliamentary site by Brendon McKenna, the petition calls to “transform parliament’s lawn into a wildflower garden”.

He explains: “I believe that the lawn has been destroyed by the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters. The reason why I believe a wildflower garden on parliament grounds should be created is to (i) give a sense of rebirth from the chaos of the protesters and (ii) increase wildlife, particularly bees, in the city.” Which would certainly give the Beehive an extra something. The concept may, however, find stiff opposition among those civil servants, according to our political editor, who like to get in a spot of lunchtime cricket on the grass. So far it has attracted seven signatures.

Meanwhile, the online petition – first noted here – demanding protesters pack up and go home continues to grow in numbers, and has just ticked over 15,000 signatures.

Police prepare to start towing protesters’ vehicles

Protesters’ cars blocking Molesworth St outside parliament (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

Cars illegally blocking Wellington streets will soon begin to be towed.

Police yesterday appealed for help from tow truck companies and the defence force. Speaking to Newstalk ZB, police commissioner Andrew Coster said there was now “some” towing capability available, but he was hoping for more to companies to come forward. “We’ve got enough [tow trucks] to get started,” Coster added during an interview with Newshub’s AM.

If people had their cars towed, they would not get them back “anytime soon”.

Asked about Canada’s use of executive power to clear a similar protest in its capital, Coster said he did not believe we had reached a “state of emergency” just yet. “We need to take a measured approach.”

Police would not be a “threat” to lawful protest, said Coster. “The problem with this protest is that it’s significantly crossed the line – the long term blocking of roads and the extensive structures that have been put on and around parliament. For those who are protesting lawfully, there’s no issue from a police perspective.”

Coster said the protesters represented a very broad collection of beliefs. It was possible to have constructive conversations with some members of the group, he said.

Conversion therapy officially banned, only eight MPs oppose

Immigration minister Kris Faafoi is expected to make a major speech today (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

So-called conversion “therapy” has officially been banned, with new legislation passing its third and final reading in parliament last night.

The bill received near-unanimous support: all Labour, Green, Māori Party and Act MPs voted in support of it. Just eight National MPs voted against it.

“This is a great day for New Zealand’s rainbow communities,” said justice minister Kris Faafoi. “Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand.”

Nearly 107,000 public submissions were received on the proposed law – the highest number of public submissions ever received on a piece of legislation in New Zealand. “The legislation incorporates public input at select committee including changes to the definition of conversion practice to clearly describe the kinds of actions that may be captured by the prohibition,” Faafoi said.

Paul Hunt, the human rights commissioner, said he welcomed the ban. “This legislation sends an unequivocal message that conversion practices, which have destructive and sometimes fatal consequences, have no place in this country,” he said.