'Sanitation issues' emerge at sodden Parliament protest

It was a sodden day at Parliament but protest numbers still continued to swell. Photo / George Heard
It was a sodden day at Parliament but protest numbers still continued to swell. Photo / George Heard
"Sanitation issues" have emerged at a protracted protest at Parliament grounds with fears of faecal contamination and unhygienic portaloos, police warn.

At a media briefing this afternoon, police are giving an update on their response to the ongoing occupation by anti-mandate protesters.

Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell revealed some of the protesters were armed with baseball bats.

He described the occupation, which had peaked at 3000, as "unprecedented territory".

The possible involvement of far-right groups was concerning, and the terror attacks of March 2019 were "front of mind", he told media.

Parnell said police spoke to "key leaders" and organisers.

"To date that hasn't been entirely successful."

About 400-500 people had been in tents. Police had asked protest organisers and factions to move vehicles.

The superintendent said it was important to reach a stage where members of the public could get to work and go about their business.

"Our goal is to get that back to a state of lawful protest."

He said several "sanitation" issues had emerged at the impromptu camp.

Parnell was asked why people were still being allowed to come and go.

"This has peaked at 3000," he said of the crowd size.

He said it was clear from overseas experiences that some tactics deployed abroad against similar protests had been unsuccessful.

"That nucleus of 300-500 people, they've sat through an extreme weather event," Parnell added. He said he did not intend for the protest to last for weeks.

On the Speaker Trevor Mallard's decision to turn music and sprinklers on, Parnell said that was not a police decision.

"Look, it is what it is. It happened."

Parnell implored parents and caregivers to think about the well-being of younger people."

Quite frankly this is no place for children."

He said a secure place had been set aside for any vehicles that might be towed, in the aim of freeing up public roads.

Using the Defence Force to move vehicles had not been ruled out, but Parnell said this was ideally something to be avoided.

Portaloos appeared to be under pressure and children were playing in unhygienic conditions, with possible faecal contamination on the ground, he said.

Some of the people arrested last week and been given bail but returned to the grounds, Parnell said.

Some of the people arrested were expected to appear in court tomorrow.

Asked why he was still waiting on negotiations after six days, he said: "We've never sat on laurels. We've been working...around the clock to engage with parties."

"There's huge disruptions around the grounds of Victoria University," Parnell added.

Some protesters had made unacceptable threats to the public, he said.

Police were working with Wellington City Council on issues around possible bylaw breaches.

"Removing the portaloos or emptying the portaloos, we've explored that at great length."

Parnell said protest sympathisers who offered food and accommodation were supporting an unlawful occupation.

He rejected suggestions the convoy protest took police off-guard.

But he added: "This is unprecedented territory in terms of an unlawful occupation and protest at Parliament."

Parnell said no threats had been made which could be deemed as national security threats.

But he said the possible involvement of far-right groups was concerning, and the terror attacks of March 2019 were "front of mind".

Parnell said people in the protest and occupation crowd were armed with baseball bats and similar items.

"We're aware of the presence of some weapons on site. Certainly not firearms, no evidence of that."

He said the situation was complex but police morale was high. Indeed, some officers even remarked on some of the quirkier aspects of the protest, Parnell said.

"They enjoyed a heck of a night there last night, but they still remained upbeat."

Mud, hay bales and Celine Dion

Earlier today, the crowd of protesters swelled again, despite howling southerly winds and rain as Cyclone Dovi buffeted the Wellington region.

There were small numbers earlier this morning, and the protesters had to fix some of the tents which were hit by the gales, but a truckload of hay has now arrived and has been spread out to carpet Parliament's lawn.

As with the last three days, Police are continuing to stand and monitor the protest without making attempts to enter the protest area or clear the grounds.

It is almost 24 hours since the Speaker turned on his speakers and the protest crowd are still booing and shouting and jeering every single time his recorded trespass warning airs.

His tactics have copped criticism from Act leader David Seymour, who said the Speaker needed to grow up.

"All MPs have chosen to ignore these protesters, except for Mallard who has waved a red rag to them.

"Trevor Mallard needs to leave the response to Police. It's not for politicians to interfere with silly pranks."

Mallard has not yet commented on whether Police approved of his decisions to use the speakers or set off Parliament's sprinklers on Thursday night.

However, Cyclone Dovi has had no more success in shifting them than the Speaker: the worst of the weather has passed, the rain and wind have stopped and there is still a sizable and enthusiastic crowd.

Just before 4pm, protesters at Parliament set up big black marquees along where the police line was on Wednesday.

They have now set up a speaker and are playing anti-vax statements through it.

The protesters are also trolling Mallard by playing Baby Shark on their own speaker.

Some have spotted him through the window and are waving cheerily.

Mallard's current playlist includes James Blunt's You're Beautiful.

Earlier this morning, James Blunt took to Twitter to Offer his songs for the playlist.

An instrumental version of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On is also on the repeat loop - played on a recorder.

Earlier today, protesters were singing along and dancing to Mallard's early morning picks of Baby Shark and Frozen's Let It Go.

By 11am, the speakers were blasting "You're Beautiful", the Blunt hit song that also regularly features in "world's worst songs" playlists.

Vehicles are still blocking Molesworth St, and what can be seen of the lawn is a mess of mud and hay.

A truck has delivered hundreds of bales of hay that are now being used to cover the lawn outside Parliament.

Act leader slams Trevor Mallard's 'silly pranks'

Act leader David Seymour has responded to Speaker Trevor Mallard's use of sprinklers and annoying repetitive music to try to deter Parliament's protesters by saying Mallard "needs to grow up".

Seymour said he did not agree with the way the protesters had behaved and most politicians had chosen to simply ignore it but Mallard's tactics were only encouraging them.

"All MPs have chosen to ignore these protesters, except for Mallard who has waved a red rag to them.

"Trevor Mallard needs to leave the response to Police. It's not for politicians to interfere with silly pranks."

"It's like he thinks he's Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and few silly pranks will scare the trespassers away. What's next? Placing buckets of water on doors left ajar?

"He's even taken to Twitter saying he will take suggestions from the public about what music to play. New Zealand deserves more maturity from the Speaker of the House.

"Not only are Mallard's antics immature, not only are they ineffective, they have made a serious situation much worse. His petty behaviour has only encouraged the protesters further."

He said Mallard needed to clarify whether he sought police advice before taking the actions.

Seymour also took a swipe at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been quiet since Thursday.

"The Beehive is under siege, and where is our Prime Minister? Jacinda has been MIA for the past few days created a vacuum for Trevor. Where is the Prime Minister and why isn't she showing leadership?"

He said it was time for Ardern to review strict vaccination mandates and assess if they were still fit for purpose. Act's policy is to allow unvaccinated people to instead undergo regular testing.

"Mandates may reassure people that others will not pass on Covid, but so does regular testing.

"We need to start looking at our response and whether it's still fit for purpose. We need to talk like adults, look at the facts and not get distracted by silly pranks and fringe groups.

Grant Robertson talks of protest's toll on MPs' families

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said this morning that the protests at Parliament had taken a toll on MPs' families.

"Every New Zealander has a right to peaceful protest," Robertson told TVNZ's Q+A. "The problem is they have gone well beyond that.

"I do find the rhetoric of these protests highly disturbing. There was chalk writing on the forecourt of Parliament that [said] 'hang politicians'. Our families see that.

"This is a continuation of the harassment the Prime Minister sees, of the kinds of … bullying that is associated with these people.

"There is a sad element to it, there is a conspiracy theory element that people who have been sucked in by."

Asked whether he would like police to take firmer action, he said: "I am on the record as the MP here as having urged the police to take action. They have taken action, but the exact way they do that is their decision."

Parliament's front lawn had already turned into a swamp yesterday as protesters flooding from across the country were greeted with rain.

Former National MP Matt King was one of them, giving a rousing speech while also announcing he'd officially resigned from the party.

"I would have had to preach their position ... I didn't want to do that," he told the Herald, saying he'd joined the protest to be among "real people" while urging them to remain peaceful and non-violent.

 

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