Jacinda Ardern won't voice opinion on Speaker's protest tactics as Opposition accuses Trevor Mallard of 'embarrassing' behaviour

The Prime Minister says the tactics the Speaker of the House uses to try and dispel hundreds of anti-vaccine mandate protesters occupying Parliament grounds and surrounding streets are up to him.

Trevor Mallard is coming under heavy fire from Opposition MPs who say his decision to turn on  sprinklers and blast loud music - including the children's song 'Baby Shark' and Frozen's 'Let It Go' - at the protesters over the weekend in the hope they will move on is childish and counterproductive.

"It's like he thinks he's Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and a few silly pranks will scare the trespassers away. What's next? Placing buckets of water on doors left ajar?" ACT leader David Seymour said.

Police have also distanced themselves from the Speaker's actions, saying they aren't tactics they'd encourage, but "it is what it is". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told AM on Monday morning that it wasn't up to her how the protesters were dealt with. 

"When it comes to the management of the protest and the Speaker or indeed the decisions by the police, ultimately I need to let them do their jobs. Those are their jurisdictions," Ardern said.

"But I would just note it has been a protest with constant noise, constant music and speaking and quite threatening behaviour and that is the context of the environment we are all in down here."

Protesters travelled from across New Zealand to Parliament's front lawn last Tuesday as part of a series of convoys rallying against COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccination mandates on certain workforces.

In the six days since, hundreds of additional protesters have also descended onto Parliament's grounds, setting up tents and gazebos and blocking central city streets with their vehicles. Police say there is a core group of 400 to 500 protesters, but at the demonstrations' peak, there were about 3000 people at the site.

Police arrested more than 120 protesters last week after they were trespassed from the grounds. Many of those at Parliament have been hurling abuse at staff, members of the public, journalists and nearby businesses, while also disrupting locals' ability to move around freely.

While some protesters claim they aren't against vaccines and only oppose mandates, many signs promote conspiracy theories about the jabs.

"There are a number of complexities in dealing with protesters with a variety of causes and leaders, but we will persist in finding open lines of communication with group leaders as we urge them to engage to work with us," Superintendent Corrie Parnell, the Wellington District Commander, said on Sunday night.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told AM on Monday morning that it wasn't up to her how the protesters were dealt with.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told AM on Monday morning that it wasn't up to her how the protesters were dealt with. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Ardern said on Monday that while she supported the right to protest, she didn't approve of the protesters' behaviour.

"I don't approve of the tactics we are seeing from the protesters. Let's be clear, Parliament is a place of protest. We are all used to seeing protests here and some of our most important movements have started through people movements that have involved protests. Nuclear-free New Zealand, the right for women to vote," she said.

"What we have seen out there, I have to say, seems much more anti-vaccination more than anything else. It's included yelling abuse at people who are walking around with masks on, occupying spaces where businesses are operating, blocking people's ability to move around freely. That is moving beyond a protest. In fact, to me, it looks like an imported style of protest that I have not seen in New Zealand, complete with Trump flags and Canadian flags."

Despite Tropical Cyclone Dovi forecast to smash Wellington with torrential rain and wind over the weekend, Mallard on Friday night ordered that Parliament's sprinklers be turned on in the hope it would cause them discomfort. Protesters covered them with cones and dug trenches to divert the water, but the grounds have become a muddy mess. Hay has since been brought in and now covers what was once a green lawn.

On Saturday, large speakers were placed on a parliamentary balcony facing the protesters, blasting loud music and vaccination messages overnight and into Sunday. Mallard posted on Twitter asking people what they thought of different songs people had suggested he play. 

Protesters brave the rain.
Protesters brave the rain. Photo credit: Newshub.

But the sound hasn't deterred the protesters, who remain there on Monday. Many were videoed on Sunday dancing and singing along to Mallard's music. 

National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop called the Speaker's behaviour "unedifying, embarrassing and ineffective". 

ACT's Seymour said he doesn't agree with how the protest has been carried out, but called Mallard's actions "pathetic" and said New Zealand deserves a more mature Speaker. 

"Not only are Mallard's antics immature, not only are they ineffective, they have made a serious situation much worse. His petty behaviour has only encouraged the protesters further. Mallard needs to tell us whether he sought police advice before taking these actions."

Seymour questioned why the Prime Minister was "MIA" over the weekend, creating "a vacuum for Trevor". 

The Prime Minister on Monday said politicians shouldn't get involved in how protesters are handled. 

"I am not going to get into the way of managing a protest in its totality. Those, ultimately, very clear distinctions. I am going to be careful to make sure that I am not making judgements around the way we deal with protest at Parliament. It is a dangerous place to be when politicians dictating the way that police might choose to deal with them."

She didn't want to "legitimise" those protesting at Parliament.

"If this were a protest that was solely around the policies that are being used to manage a pandemic, then why is it that every journalist who stands out on that forecourt is being hurled abuse about telling the truth. There are signs calling for the execution of politicians. 

"There is more than just an anti-vax rhetoric amongst some that are strong. I wouldn't want to, for a moment, legitimise some of what I have seen down there, because some of it is pure misinformation around the role of vaccines and indeed some people seem to believe we are mandating the vaccine of children, when clearly that is not true."

Protesters clashed with police last week.
Protesters clashed with police last week. Photo credit: Newshub.

Former National MP Matt King has been camping with protesters over the weekend. He told AM earlier on Monday that most would move on if the Prime Minister announced a date for when mandates would end. 

Ardern has previously said they will only be in place as long as they are needed, but refused to set a clear date, noting that Omicron is currently surging. New Zealand recorded 810 cases on Sunday, by far the most ever reported in a single day. 

"We will lift them. But can I give you a date? As our cases are increasing, it's very difficult for us to put that date on it. But we do anticipate being able to move away from that in the future.

"When we can, we will. But when we're on the up side of a curve in an Omicron outbreak, now's not the time to do that. So we've also struggled in the past to put dates on the easing of different restrictions. But you've seen as soon as we can, we have moved away."

The Speaker has been contacted for comment.