National's Judith Collins says she doesn't want to see Jacinda Ardern "threatened" when the Prime Minister visits Auckland this week amid concern over large-scale protests.
Ardern confirmed on Monday that she will head to Auckland on Wednesday for the first time during this nearly three-month-long lockdown. While in the region, she says she will be "supporting the vaccination efforts there, meeting with business representatives and local government".
But there are concerns about whether protests may disrupt her visit as they did last week when she was in Northland and Whanganui. While in Te Tai Tokerau last Tuesday, Ardern had to shut down a press conference after being heckled at, while a trip to a vaccination clinic in Whanganui last Wednesday was also canned as protesters gathered.
Asked what kind of response she was likely to get in Auckland on Wednesday, Collins said it would depend on where the Prime Minister went.
"I suggest the Prime Minister goes to visit some of the small business people that you would have seen I have been visiting. I think she will find that they will be grateful for her visiting. I think she will find that they will tell her what they are going through.
"I actually don't want to see anything happen to the Prime Minister or to have her threatened in anyway. I think it is not good for our democracy and also it is not right for people to do that to each other."
Collins said some people might be "a little annoyed" Ardern has "taken so long to get there".
"But I also think that they will ulltimately be grateful for her being there."
The Prime Minister was asked on Monday if she was concerned about facing protests. She said it was important to keep her previous encounters in perspective, noting there were only about four protesters in Northland and that the demonstrators in Whanganui were rallying over a "mixture of things".
"To be honest, as someone in politics, I expect that from time to time I will have a range of views where people will come out and have their voices heard," she said.
Ardern said no more security measures were being put in place than usual.
"I expect people to share their views, and that should be regardless of what situation we’re in. I expect people will do that, and the whole point of being in Auckland and talking to business representatives, visiting those vaccination centres, and engaging with others is to hear those views."
National and ACT have been calling on her to visit the city for weeks, saying she needs to physically be there to understand the pain many are going through and the pressures facing businesses unable to operate at full capacity.
Ardern, however, has previously said she's been constrained by rules requiring any MP who has been to an alert level 3 area to isolate for five days upon return to Parliament. Those rules were lifted by Speaker Trevor Mallard earlier this month, allowing the Prime Minister to start planning a visit north.
Her trip comes as thousands rally at Parliament on Tuesday against COVID-19 measures like lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Security is tight at the precinct, with many of the main entrances locked up.
Collins, who has been an MP since 2002, told reporters she has never seen anything like it.
"I have been in Parliament for a few years. I have never seen anything like the security arrangements here today. I expect that Parliament won't have been undertaking those unless they are concerned about what might or might not occur. I hope there will be a peaceful protest."
While Collins said she feels safe, and noted that the only aggression from anti-vaxxers she has faced has been on social media, she is "very concerned" about "what might be planned for today".
"I hope that the protest will be peaceful and our concerns will be basically not needed. I am obviously concerned. I have never seen Parliament locked up like this."
Her message to protesters was to be peaceful and "not to do anything for which they will be ashamed".
"My view is that [National MPs] are best to stay within the parliamentary precinct but I also believe too is that it is important for them to understand that this is a very unusual situation, that parliamentary security staff are there to protect them… they would not be taking these steps that I have seen today if they did not believe they had very good reason to do so."
Collins says she has made it clear to her MPs that she doesn't think it is the right thing for them to go and meet the protesters. She says it appears the protest is mostly against vaccinations and "we don't want to really be seen with it".