New Zealand Journalists speak on covering the anti-mandate protests at Parliament

Journalists can't see when or how the protests at the Wellington Beehive will end.
Journalists can't see when or how the protests at the Wellington Beehive will end. Photo credit: Getty Images

The protest at Parliament is like nothing journalists here in New Zealand have ever seen before. 

The occupation  is into its second week and the police and politicians are struggling to work out how to bring it to a peaceful end. 

Today on The Detail, Emile Donovan and Sharon Brettkelly speak to three journalists reporting on the protest about how it’s unfolded, how they’ve covered it and what’s so different about it. 

Newsroom’s political reporter Marc Daalder hasn’t gone down to speak to the protesters himself, but he has his reasons. 

“It sucks to feel like your place of work is not safe for you. 

“People have different opinions – there are other journalists here who feel perfectly safe, and that’s great for them, but they’re not people who’ve received anti-Semitic death threats for three years,” Daalder says. 

“Some of the protesters have gone up to the balcony where the media are able to film from and asked for me by name, asked for me to come down.” 

Kristin Hall from 1News says the lack of unifying message among the crowd makes this protest unique.  

“There is an overarching sense of why people are there, and that is ‘freedom’ of some description,” she says. 

“But you’ve got a lot of conflicting ideas within that. You speak to people who are vaccinated; you speak to people who are really strongly anti-vax and believe vaccinations are murdering unborn children; you’ve got people who believe in QAnon, you’ve got people who think that’s absolutely crazy; you’ve got people who believe the Nuremberg Trials have started, and people who say ‘no, that’s not OK, that’s derailing our message. 

“It’s been a very strange experience in that sense.”   

Tracy Watkins, editor of the Sunday Star Times, can't see when or how it will end. 

She's reported on politics for decades and says this protest is nothing like previous protests.

She points to the day the now former National MP Shane Ardern drove a tractor up steps of Parliament, or when the foreshore and seabed hīkoi streamed into Wellington, as examples.

The latter stays in Watkins' memory as a "huge, passionate protest”, but unlike today's occupation, the 2004 hīkoi had a "very clear purpose". 

"There were some very angry moments there, for instance Tame Iti spitting on the ground in front of Sir Michael Cullen, but it was coalesced around one cause," she says.

“It resulted in momentum for a political party and an ideology that was very successful at that time, leading to the formation of the Māori Party and also in the end quite a significant rewrite of the Foreshore and Seabed Act." 

It's much more difficult to see a common ideology with this protest, Watkins says. There's widespread opposition to the Covid-19 vaccination and mandates, but there's also a wide range of other signs, causes and groups among those camping on the grounds of Parliament. 

Watkins says ‘anti-establishment’ isn't a strong enough word to describe the uniting factor among the protesters. 

"It's a group that totally has absolute lack of trust in the authorities and the Government and the media and the police, that seems to be the biggest uniting cause." 

Watkins tells The Detail she worries about what happens to the protesters when they finally quit and go home, and the thousands of others on the fringes of society who feel disenfranchised by vaccine mandates. Without a solution to their concerns, she fears they will become more and more radicalised.