Former MP Dame Tariana Turia says she has "no confidence" in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over the "bullying" of anti-vaccine mandate protesters at Parliament.
Dame Tariana, who resigned from Labour in 2004 over the Foreshore and Seabed Act controversy and went on to co-lead the Māori Party before retiring in 2014, says she sympathises with the protesters.
"I definitely don't sympathise with the Government and I certainly sympathise with the protesters because I don't believe that any government has any right to dictate to sectors of New Zealand who disagree with them," she told RNZ.
"It's bullying behaviour."
Dame Tariana, who revealed she is not vaccinated against COVID-19, said she had "no confidence" in Ardern and made reference to her former role as president of the International Union of Socialist Youth.
"I have no confidence in her. I've seen a video of her that was on TV a while ago where she was doing almost the 'Heil Hilter' salute as a young socialist," Dame Tariana told RNZ.
Dame Tariana did not elaborate on what footage she saw. She may have been referring to Ardern speaking at the International Union of Socialist Youth's World Council annual meeting in 2009, where she used the term "comrade" several times - a term used to describe a fellow socialist or communist. But Ardern did not appear to make any salute.
"I certainly believe she's a socialist," Dame Tariana said, but when asked if socialism and Nazism go hand-in-hand, she said: "Well, I don't know so much."
Dame Tariana said the Government was exercising too much power and felt that the protesters outside Parliament deserved to be heard.
"Absolutely. That's our right as New Zealanders, as those who have put these people into power. I think we have every right to be heard. I think that anyone who is behaving like the Government is right now are abusing their power."
Dame Tariana said she was against vaccine mandates.
"I am, in principle. I think that we trust people to do what they know to be best for themselves. To say that everybody has to do a particular action - and it's dictated by the Government - I don't think they've got any right ever to dictate to the people.
"It's not something I would ever participate in."
For 11 days now, protesters have camped outside Parliament demanding an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions related to the pandemic. And despite being trespassed from Parliament grounds, a large group of protesters remains.
Ardern has so far refused to engage with the protesters, pointing to their "illegal" behaviour, including blocking the roads around Parliament and threatening MPs.
"There will be a time when we will be in a position to move away from restrictions in the same way that we've moved away from lockdowns and that we're opening our borders. But right now is not that time," Ardern said on Thursday.
Police last week arrested more than 120 protesters after House Speaker Trevor Mallard issued a trespass notice. But a core group has remained, despite the Speaker's controversial attempts at dispersing them with sprinklers and loud music.
Mallard on Thursday announced a cross-party decision that there would be no dialogue "until the protest returns to one within the law, including the clearing of all illegally parked vehicles that are blocking streets, the removal of unauthorised structures, and the cessation of the intimidation of Wellingtonians".
Dame Tariana said the protesters should be listened to. She referred to when MPs came out in 2004 to meet protesters against proposed legislation to vest ownership of New Zealand's foreshore and seabed in the Crown.
"I remember when the foreshore and seabed was on, all the political parties came out and spoke and it was appreciated and respected. It's a little bit like the mandating issue. It's about power and authority and the abuse of it. That's how I would view it."
She disagreed with the Speaker's tactics.
"We have a right, as people, to say yes or no to whatever is happening in politics, and people have guarded that religiously - their right to speak for or against - and I think they've overstepped their mark and I certainly believe Trevor Mallard as the Speaker of the House and his behaviour towards the protest movement has been totally out of line. I've never seen it before. I've never, ever seen the Crown behave like that before.
"It's tantamount to bullying."
The 77-year-old said she would join the protesters if she could.
"I definitely would. I'm nearly 78 - a bit long in the tooth to be going and sitting in the grounds of Parliament. Absolutely I support them."
She praised the police.
"I think the police have been restrained and I'm really quite proud of the way in which they have behaved during this.
"If they [the protesters] were behaving abusively, the police would have arrested them."
Other prominent Kiwis have declared their support for the protest, including former National MP Matt King, yachtsman Russell Coutts, and Opshop musician Jason Kerrison.
Former Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox has also been spotted among the protesters.