Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is refusing to condemn her Transport Minister and the Speaker of the House for comments likening Parliament's anti-mandate protests to a "river of filth" and "ferals".
For 13 days, protesters have camped outside Parliament demanding an end to COVID-vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions. Police and protesters faced off in the early hours of Monday - the 14th day of the occupation.
Last Wednesday, Labour MP Michael Wood - the Transport Minister and Deputy Leader of the House - noted some of the protesters were hurt and lashing out, "but underneath all of that, there is a river of filth… There is a river of violence and menace. There is a river of anti-Semitism. There is a river of Islamophobia. There is a river of threats to people who work in this place and our staff", he told fellow MPs.
On the same day, House Speaker Trevor Mallard described demonstrators as "the biggest collection of ferals that I've seen" in an interview with the NZ Herald.
Mallard was already facing criticism for turning Parliament's sprinklers on and playing loud music and Unite Against COVID-19 ads to try and deter the protesters.
Ardern on Monday was asked by AM host Ryan Bridge if she condoned those comments.
"I don't condone the illegal activity outside," she responded.
"I'm not going to delve into the context of the comments that other people have made. I am going to own every word that I share and make… [the protest] is illegal, it needs to be moved on - we need to move on from this period right now and get on with focusing on the pandemic that is in front of all of us."
She said the anti-mandate demonstration had moved from a protest to "illegal activity".
"I think we can all agree on that - the point has been made and it is time to go home," Ardern said. "There are children out there and I'm deeply uncomfortable about that. They've been there for weeks - it is not an environment for kids."
Police officers lined up outside of concrete barriers on Aitken and Featherston Streets near Parliament early on Monday morning while protesters yelled "hold the line" and "keep it peaceful".
Ardern said the police and under-pressure Commissioner Andrew Coster had her full support.
Coster at the weekend denied police were too soft and insisted "de-escalation" was still the best path to a resolution.
He told TVNZ's Q+A the protest was "really confronting".
"It's really in your face for those who are close to it," Coster said.
"This protest is pretty unprecedented in terms of its nature and tactics… we can look at it in hindsight now and go, 'It shouldn't have got to this', but if we look at the decision points along the way, I'm confident the right things have been done at the right time."