Protesters outside parliament in February (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone, additional design by Tina Tiller)
Protesters outside parliament in February (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone, additional design by Tina Tiller)

PoliticsMarch 24, 2022

How did the end-the-mandate protesters respond to the ending of mandates?

Protesters outside parliament in February (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone, additional design by Tina Tiller)
Protesters outside parliament in February (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone, additional design by Tina Tiller)

Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that most Covid vaccination requirements will soon end didn’t please all of those who led and joined the occupation at parliament.

If there was one demand that everyone backing the convoy, protest and 23-day occupation of parliament grounds could agree on, it was that vaccine mandates must end. Given the miscellany of motivations and objectives among the movement, however, it is no surprise that there was such a range of reactions to yesterday’s  announcement that most mandates and vaccination passes will come to an end in the coming days. For some there was relief, even delight. Some felt the changes didn’t go far enough. For others, at the more deeply conspiracy-theory-drenched end of the spectrum, there was nothing but deep suspicion; Jacinda Ardern must have had some nefarious ulterior motive.

Setting out the decisions, Ardern said that the decline in the omicron outbreak, with Auckland on the downward slope in daily cases and the rest of the country likely to be in a similar place by early April, together with high levels of vaccination and immunity from what modellers estimate to be 1.7 million likely infections, meant “it’s now safe to ease the restrictions that have successfully prevented widespread health and economic damage”.

Outside parliament (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

She dismissed out of hand any idea that participants in the occupation or riot should be “emboldened” by the announcements. “I made it clear right here in this theatrette that when we came to the point where we would remove passes and make changes to mandates it would be because it is safe to do so, not because anyone arrived on the front lawn of parliament. And you can see by the data we’re presenting today, that’s exactly what we’ve done.” 

That could not, of course, dampen the mood among some of the ringleaders. “Congrats NZ bravehearts YOU DID IT. Stayed course, beat the &%$@#, can dine-out now!” punned the Outdoors Party in a Facebook post.

The Freedom and Rights Coalition, founded by Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church, was jubilant. “TAKE A BOW FREEDOM FIGHTERS!” was the message on Facebook. “Because of you and your fight…change is coming! Against all odds we have held the line, we have survived, we have kept in the face of politicians and officials calling for the control to be lifted. Granted, there’s still some way to go until all mandates and controls are lifted, and those who have suffered are compensated….but we must take a minute to celebrate the wins at hand. SO LET’S CELEBRATE THIS WEEKEND!”

The original New Zealand Convoy Facebook group, with around 50,000 members, was removed by the platform last week. A smaller Convoy group, with just over 17,000 members, was busy yesterday discussing the announcement, however. The mood is best summed up by a post from Dave. “Every single person that either organised, took part or supported the convoy movement and the parliament grounds occupation in any way should feel bloody proud today. The effort was worth it. Virtual group hug required nationwide,” he posted. Before long, however, after being admonished in the comment thread, he added this: “Edit:- Hey guys l fully recognise that we are at war in this country and that this was only a skirmish that has been won. But l reckon it’s ok to pause and celebrate a success before the next battle.”

Another member of the Convoy group had a special message for “all the freedom ladies”. She wrote: “Now is the time to visit your hairdresser and share information like you’ve never before.” Mandates were introduced at hair salons to prevent the transmission of a potentially deadly disease; but this anti-mandate advocate reckoned she had heard from someone high up that it was about the transmission of ideas. “The reason they mandated these services early is because they knew we were talking and sharing vital information (and that the information was disseminating). So now is the time to get back to your roots (literally).”

Branding for the New Zealand convoy.

Even before the prime minister’s own Facebook livestream – itself strewn with a mix of supportive, aggressive and disinformation-amplifying comments – was finished, Chantelle Baker had fired up her own livestream on the social media giant. A prolific, Instagram-ready anti-vaxxer, Baker racked up hundreds of thousands of views on her many hours-long livestreams at the occupation, often drawing into the frame her father, the former New Conservative Party leader Leighton Baker. 

“Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, has officially announced that vaccine passes are going to be dropped,” she said, opening her monologue yesterday. “Huge news, and it comes three weeks to the day that the protest ended.” Ardern might “say that the protest made no difference, but what’s the one thing that changed over the last three weeks?” Baker cleared her throat. “Her poll results. Her poll results changed.” And the victory was not complete, said Baker, who was disappointed that private businesses would still be able to require vaccination and “use this to virtue signal out to the world”. 

Chantelle Baker on a Facebook Live at the parliament grounds occupation in February.

Baker then turned her attention to political machinations. “Everyone right now needs to be hyper aware of .. the talk about minor leaders and minor parties coming together to try to get rid of Labour.” It didn’t stand a chance, she said, if they could not overcome the infighting at the occupation and speak with one voice. “If you can’t even work together on the small stage, how can people back you on the big stage?” 

Before digressing into other issues like cryptocurrency, the World Economic Forum and the war in Ukraine, she added: “We need 140,000 votes to get that 5% threshold. So if you’ve got 50,000 or 90,000 followers on Facebook, whatever it is, it’s not enough, it’s nowhere near enough – and I’m not saying ‘90,000’ for me,” said Baker, in reference to her own following, “because I don’t want to be in parliament, but it’s nowhere near enough.” The various group leaders needed to “get over their egos”, she said. “I know Dad’s been trying to get people to work together and then their egos take over … You’re not better if you’re jumping on the same wagon and wanting your own form of self-absorbed tyranny. So that’s my two bits.”

As of 6pm yesterday, Facebook’s tally showed 50,000 views of Baker’s video, with more than 2,500 comments posted. 

The best-funded of the anti-vax groups, Voices for Freedom, has been banned from Facebook for spreading misinformation, but it was quick to criticise Ardern’s announcement on the social media sewer that is Telegram. So quick, in fact, that the rejoinder was published before the prime minister’s speech. Ardern said that while vaccine passes would not be required as of April 4, they’d “keep them in our back pocket”. VFF had anticipated that in a post on Tuesday evening with a picture of a backside, pockets stuffed with cash, a baton emblazoned with the words “vax passes and mandates” and the Pfizer logo.

“Whatever the announcement tomorrow, we know that it will be up to every single one of us to remain undistracted by the temporary carnival of ‘getting our freedoms back’,” was the message. “So long as the threat of keeping mandates and vax passes in the ‘back pocket’ for when (not if) they are needed again, the nation will remain on edge, anxiously waiting for the magical undefined moment when the segregation system will be resurrected. Will it be flu? Whooping cough? A new fandangled variant? Who knows. As long as threat remains we will keep asking questions, raising awareness, and pushing against disproportionate measures that annihilate the rights & freedoms of Kiwis.”

Ardern was clear on this point, however, when asked at yesterday’s media conferences, saying “there is no intention to use it for anything other than the pandemic we have”. 

Skipping across to the far-right, swivel-eyed QAnon-spouting end of the movement, one prominent advocate for the execution of politicians, media and academics, who was also booted off Facebook in recent days, offered this analysis: “With mandates going away, so will the mainstream news viewership. The collapse of the Covid-19 narrative is very much assured. NZ swamp are in an impossible position, they are only left with fake hysteria & lies they shill.”

Billy Te Kahika speaks.

On the Counterspin Media talkboards there were some initial bursts of celebration, but they were quickly drowned out by familiar screeds of misogynistic abuse, angry threats, and attacks on the ongoing mask mandates, which were variously described as “fear propagated theatre” and tantamount to Nazism.

There was no pleasing Billy Te Kahika, either. The blues musician, failed politician and conspiracy theorist said: “Just dreadful, horrific drivel, setting itself up to the return of the laws, just give us a little bit of freedom.” This was, he said, the work of a “totalitarian regime”. His assessment, true to form, was this: “Something else is afoot.”

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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