ACT Party leader David Seymour is defending himself after facing criticism for meeting with anti-mandate protesters in Wellington.
Seymour said he decided to meet with the protesters after Alistair Boyce, the owner of the Backbencher pub asked him to. Boyce was forced to close his pub near Parliament due to protesters hurling abuse at his staff last week. But Seymour said Boyce now believed the more "odious" protesters have left and he wanted to meet with them to ensure he could reopen without issue.
Seymour, who was joined by ACT MP Nicole McKee, said the conditions he delivered to the protesters included removing vehicles blocking the roads around Parliament and Victoria University, and a guarantee that no more people passing by would be harassed.
But the meeting drew ire from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who said it was "irresponsible".
Speaking with AM on Thursday, Seymour said he met with the protesters to help a small business owner.
"I was asked by somebody who runs a business in the area who has been terribly affected, not just in the last week but actually by two years, and what I said to these folks was, 'Look what you need to do is clear the streets because you can't complain about restrictions when you're stopping businesses from operating, same thing goes for Victoria University, you've got to ensure that those more odious elements are not part of the protest because no one can support threats and so on, you can't be talking about civil liberties while you're making threats of violence'.
"Then having dealt with that I think it's time for dialogue because these people are human, they are part of New Zealand and at the end of this we need to glue this country back together," Seymour told AM.
The ACT leader also hit out at the Government's handling of the protesters, slamming Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard's response.
"Some people say you shouldn't have any kind of contact. The Prime Minister says it's the wrong thing to do, but just remember she's part of the Labour Party like Trevor Mallard whose idea of dealing with a situation like this is to turn on sprinklers and loud music and call people names, which a number of other people in the Government have done."
Mallard utilised several methods to remove protesters last week including turning on the sprinklers and blasting Barry Manilow and the Macarena.
Seymour said the response only made the protest worse.
"The effect of that is that more people have shown up. Some people there, I believe, are actually protesting against the Government's response to the protest."
Seymour said the protest is a "concentrated form of the frustrations" many Kiwis have over the Government's COVID-19 response.
"I think it would be fair to say that it's possible to disagree with the nature of the protest, and especially some of the incidents that occurred earlier on. But the wider question is when does New Zealand get its way of life and its freedoms back and that is something that I think a lot of people would like an answer to.
"The protest is just the more concentrated form of the frustrations people have with an ongoing, often controlling and cathanded response to COVID and in that sense, I think a lot of people have some sympathy."
Seymour's response is world's apart from Ardern who has so far refused to engage with the protesters.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister criticised the ACT Leader's meeting.
"I don't think it was a responsible thing to do for a party that purports to be the champion of law and order or indeed businesses, to meet with those who are obstructing Wellingtonians from going about their everyday lives, bullying and harassing people who are trying to go to school or work," she told reporters on Wednesday.
"I do think meeting with them was irresponsible."
The protest appears to be inspired by The Freedom Convoy, an ongoing protest in Ottawa, Canada against COVID-19 vaccine requirements for truckers to re-enter the country by land, introduced by Canadian authorities on January 15. Protesters have been camped out on Parliament's lawns for more than a week despite ongoing efforts to move them. They've drawn condemnation for their behaviour including blocking streets with cars, hurling abuse at passersby including school children and general mayhem.
Pregnant Labour MP Steph Lewis said she feared for her safety on Tuesday when protesters banged on her office's windows and threatened to lynch, hang and kidnap her.
Police have repeatedly asked protesters to move on and have arrested more than 100 people.