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blog feb 18


Police say any engagement could turn protest violent

Hello there, it’s Friday already and this is The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Send me a message on

The headlines

blog feb 18

Police say any engagement could turn protest violent

Hello there, it’s Friday already and this is The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Send me a message on

The headlines

Feb 18 2022

Protest groups apologise to journalists, set up ‘media liaison’ role

A protester’s bus blocking a street near parliament on February 11 (Photo: Getty Images)

Some of the groups represented at the parliament protest in Wellington have sent out a “personal message” to media “to apologise about the treatment some journalists have received when trying to cover the Wellington protest”.

“We have only recently become aware that reporters trying to enter the site were turned away. We are also now becoming more fully aware of the personal abuse some received. For that we are genuinely sorry,” says the email, co-signed by Convoy 2022 NZ, Freedom Alliance, New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out with Science, Outdoors & Freedom Movement, The Freedom and Rights Coalition and Voices for Freedom, some of the groups involved in the occupation of parliament grounds, now in its 11th day.

“While the ‘combined groups’ do not represent everyone present, we nevertheless take responsibility for the gaps in our internal communication, between ourselves and the security team in particular, that’s resulted in you not being made welcome,” says the email.

Strong anti-media sentiment has been prevalent at the protest, which is ostensibly opposed to vaccine mandates but encompasses a wide range of groups and views. Reporters have been abused and threatened. A Stuff report today describes journalists being asked to leave parliament grounds.

In return for their apology, the groups are asking media “to give consideration to the organic nature of this protest and the new experience for all that is unfolding”.

While acknowledging “many protesters’ frustration and concern towards the mainstream media”, the email says “we are prepared to do our absolute best to support you to properly report on the events and cover the stories at the protest site”.

The email goes on to explain that a “media liaison” role has been created, and asks media to send an email before visiting parliament grounds. “You will be escorted, should you wish, by our internal security team and a media liaison person (however please note this person is not a spokesperson).”

The email says the protest’s “internal security team” has been “re-briefed” and the groups will “continue to implement our internal communications strategy – whereby speakers will talk to the crowd throughout the day about the need for continued tolerance and respect to everyone including the media”.

On spokespeople, the email says: “We have been working over the past few days to decide on a suitable person or persons to represent us publicly. We are nearly there. Thank you for bearing with us.”

A lack of leadership has been cited by police as a reason negotiations with protesters have not progressed, and divisions in the wider movement have been reported.

Protesters’ vehicles blocking a street near parliament (Photo: Getty Images)

Police commissioner: Enforcement action risks turning protest violent

Police commissioner Andrew Coster (Photo: Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

Police commissioner Andrew Coster said de-escalation of the parliamentary protest remained the key objective – but admitted the number of attendees was expected to grow over the weekend.

“We continue to carefully navigate our options to reopen the roads, but the most desirable way to end this safely, is to encourage open communication channels,” said Coster. “Yesterday’s statement from the speaker of the house has provided a window of opportunity for protesters who wish to have their views heard by parliament, to clear the roads and restrict the protest to parliament grounds.”

MPs will only engage with the protest when roads had been cleared, but so far the number of protesters has been growing daily.

Coster said enforcement action taken by police risked “injury to the public” and a “transition away from a largely peaceful protest to violence”.

Police commissioner Andrew Coster (Photo: Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

“Police’s current assessment of the situation is that any enforcement action by police runs a serious risk of much wider harm than the protest is presently creating,” Coster added.

A traffic management plan is being put in place to control vehicle numbers and ensure emergency vehicles can make it onto parliament grounds when needed. “The option to move vehicles to Sky Stadium remains open and we encourage people to make greater use of this so that those who live and work in the area can go about their lawful business unimpeded by the protest activity,” said Coster.

At a press conference this afternoon, Coster said he could not guarantee that protesters would not still be on parliament grounds in two weeks.

Covid-19 outbreak: 1,929 new community cases

Image: Toby Morris

The number of new community Covid-19 cases has jumped again, with 1,929 new infections today. That’s around 400 more than yesterday and another daily record.

The seven-day rolling average has now hit four figures: 1,051.

The outbreak’s epicentre remains Auckland where 1,384 cases were recorded. In addition, new cases were registered in Northland (13), Waikato (155), Bay of Plenty (58), Lakes (9), Hawke’s Bay (17), MidCentral (3), Whanganui (11), Taranaki (9), Tairāwhiti (8), Wairarapa (5), Capital and Coast (28), Hutt Valley (50), Nelson Marlborough (60), Canterbury (35), South Canterbury (7) and the Southern DHB (77).

There are now 9,874 active cases of Covid-19 in the community.

The number of hospitalisations have risen by 10 to 73, with one person now in intensive care.

At the border, another 18 cases were recorded overnight.

The Ministry of Health said that demand for Covid-19 testing remained high and reminded people only to visit a testing centre if required.

“It’s very important that you only get tested if you have cold or flu symptoms, have been identified as a close contact of a case, or have been asked to get tested by a health official.” Just under 33,000 people were tested for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours – well above the weekly average.

For those who do test positive, the ministry said: “We are asking people to please be patient as contact tracing teams may not be in contact immediately, and it could take a few days before they are able to speak with you.”

Visit The Spinoff’s Covid-19 Tracker page here.

Eye surgeon fined after seeing patients when unvaccinated

Nurses prepare Covid-19 vaccines in Norway, which has paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine (Photo: Getty Images)

A Dunedin eye surgeon has been fined $4,000 after he saw patients while unvaccinated.

According to the Ministry of Health, Dr Deepak Gupta was issued the infringement notice following complaints investigated by the ministry. Health practitioners can only offer in person health services if they are vaccinated for Covid-19.

While Gupta was registered as a medical practitioner at the time of the offending, he has since, at his own request, cancelled this. As such, he is no longer able to practice as a medical practitioner in New Zealand.

It’s time for… The Friday Quiz!

The Friday News Quiz

What a news week it has been! I’m exhausted – and if you’ve been reading it, you probably are too.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy this finely crafted journey through the week in news.

‘The people of Wellington have had enough’: Community leaders release joint letter

The grounds of parliament. Photograph: Getty

A number of prominent Wellington-based community leaders, including mayor Andy Foster and deputy prime minister Grant Robertson, have signed a joint letter calling for illegal protest activity around parliament to cease.

The letter, released to media, said that while there is a right to peaceful protest, the rally in Wellington “has gone well beyond that point”.

“Those who live, work and go to school and university have been subjected to significant levels of abuse and harassment when attempting to move about in the area,” reads the letter. “There has been intimidation to Wellingtonians and city workers, and some residents have reported being too frightened or distressed to leave their homes.”

Other signatories include the mayors of South Wairarapa, Hutt City, Upper Hutt and Porirua, the vice-chancellor of Victoria University Grant Guilford, and Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

The letter continues: “The vehicles associated with the protest are illegally blocking roads that are preventing Wellingtonians moving freely, including using public transport, posing a risk to the movement of emergency services, and are severely disrupting businesses. A number of businesses have had to close to protect their staff, while for others customers cannot access these businesses. The University has needed to close its Pipitea campus disrupting teaching and learning.

“Police have issued trespass notices for those on Parliamentary and University grounds. We remind the protestors this city and these streets are those of Wellingtonians who have the right to access them freely and without fear.

“The people of Wellington have had enough of this illegal activity, harassment and disruption, we ask that it end immediately.”

Law professor: ‘Zero tolerance’ for protester threats against politicians, media

There should be no tolerance of death threats made by the parliamentary protesters, a law professor told RNZ this morning.

We’re into day 11 of the anti-mandate occupation of parliament, and while reports suggest the crowd is largely peaceful, there remain more extremist elements present.

Waikato University Al Gillespie said we should only be supportive of the peaceful elements of the protest. “We should show zero tolerance when [there’s aggression] towards journalists or parliamentarians,” he said. “These are the key parts of our freedom and right now certain groups are targeting them.”

Hate speech was against the law, added Gillespie, who said here should be an intermediary between parliament and the protesters to try end the occupation.

Yesterday, speaker of the house Trevor Mallard said no MP would address the crowd until the illegal elements of the protest had been ended.

NZ on track to administer 1.25m booster doses this month

The “big boost” week of action saw nearly 370,000 more booster doses administered across the country.

Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, said that it has bolstered February booster numbers up to 748,351. “We are on track to administer over 1.25 million boosters for the month,” Hipkins said.

“That’s a good result, but we can do more – I urge everyone to get their booster as soon as they are due. It is the best thing we can do to combat omicron and protect ourselves, our whānau, and our communities.”

On average, around 44,000 booster shots have been given out every day this month.

America’s Cup champ, Real Housewives star, join protest

Russell Coutts and Gilda Kirkpatrick (Image / Getty & The Spinoff)

A pair of high profile personalities have thrown their support behind the anti-mandate occupation outside parliament.

America’s Cup champ Russell Coutts has announced he will join the rally next week.

In a post on Facebook, the yachtsman said it’s the first time he’s ever felt compelled to join a protest. “I’m not anti-vaccine (I’m vaccinated) but I’m definitely against forced vaccinations,” he wrote.

“I’m also strongly opposed to the ever increasing erosion of our human rights and the growing limitations on our freedom of choice. I believe in having the freedom to be able to question so-called ‘expert’ opinion.”

Coutts suggested the government had created an “us and them” mentality through the imposition of vaccine mandates.

Meanwhile, Real Housewives of Auckland star Gilda Kirkpatrick has been in Wellington for the past three days. She tweeted to say it “feels great to be amongst like minded people without prejudice and mask free”.

Along with former National MP Matt King, the pair are likely the highest profile supporters of the events in Wellington. Former Labour Party MP Tariana Turia also said she has “no confidence” in prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Russell Coutts and Gilda Kirkpatrick (Image / Getty & The Spinoff)

New in podcasts: Bernard Hickey on aluminium prices vs our climate plans

The price of aluminium has exploded in the last six months – so much so that Rio Tinto now wants to delay the closure of the aluminium smelter it owns at Tiwai Point beyond the planned end date of 2024. But this decision has thrown a big spanner into the works of climate change planners, investors and politicians, who had been working under the assumption that, come 2024, the 13% of the nation’s power supply that Tiwai Point uses would become available to help cities decarbonise their transport fleets. This week on When the Facts Change, Bernard Hickey talks to climate change minister James Shaw and renewable energy expert Rebecca Peer about what Tiwai Point staying would do for our climate plans.

Follow When the Facts Change on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Also new this week on The Spinoff Podcast Network…

Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas talk the parliament protest on Gone By Lunchtime. Just who are the protesters? Have the police got the response right? What about Trevor Mallard? And is it a good idea to engage? Plus: The latest from the Auckland mayoral race.

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

It was “confession week” on Married at First Sight Australia this week, and The Real Pod recapped every terrible moment.

Follow The Real Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

And on The Fold this week, Duncan Greive met comedy star Joe Daymond, who’s well on his way to building a TV empire with his production company West Park.

Follow The Fold on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Around a third of NZers back parliament protesters – poll

Protesters pack into the grounds of Parliament on the fifth day of demonstrations against Covid-19 restrictions in Wellington on February 12, 2022, inspired by a similar demonstration in Canada. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Almost a third of New Zealanders, or roughly one in three, back the ongoing protest at parliament, according to a new poll.

The Horizon Research survey reported 30% in support of the occupation, while 61% were opposed and the rest didn’t know.

On the subject of vaccine mandates, 64% still supported them while 28% were not in favour.

The poll is likely not the result expected by many in the Beehive. Earlier this week, speaker of the house Trevor Mallard described the group as “ferals” and prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said the protesters represent a small minority of New Zealanders.

Yesterday, all parties in parliament agreed to not talk with the protesters until “the protest returns to one within the law”.

The sample size for the poll isn’t huge – just 520 – and as such there is a plus or minus 4.5% margin of error.

Former National MP planning anti-mandate political party

Matt King, leader of Democracy NZ.

Matt King, the former National MP for Northland, has announced plans to launch a new political party off the back of his support for the protesters at parliament.

The ex-MP was one of the first high profile attendees of the parliament occupation.

In a statement to Newshub, King said that none of the current parties in the political landscape provided a “credible alternative” to the status quo. “I have begun discussions with an experienced group of people regarding a political party that represents our fundamental rights as Kiwis,” he said.

“After one term in parliament, I feel I have unfinished business, I will have more to announce in the coming days.”

It’s not yet known who could be lining up to join King’s party. When asked by the Herald, he neither confirmed nor denied that Leighton Baker, another figurehead of the protest, would be involved.

National leader Christopher Luxon has distanced himself from King over his vaccination views. King recently resigned from his former party.