ODESC convenes: Top national security officials meet to discuss Parliament protest 'risks and implications'

A group of top national security officials are meeting to discuss issues related to the ongoing Parliament protest, now in its tenth day. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) confirmed to Newshub that the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC) was convening on Thursday. 

ODESC provides strategic advice to the Prime Minister on security and intelligence matters. The group includes bosses from police, the two spy agencies, foreign affairs, and the Defence Force. 

"The meeting will ensure there's a shared understanding of the situation and that all risks and potential implications have been identified," a DPMC spokesperson told Newshub. 

"The National Security System is coordinated by the National Security Group in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but police remain the lead agency responding to the protest."

ODESC was convened in 2019 after the March 15 Christchurch terror attack.

For 10 days now, protesters have camped outside Parliament demanding an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions related to the coronavirus. Despite being tresspassed from Parliament grounds, a large group of protesters remain. 

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster on Tuesday activated a Major Operations Centre at Police National Headquarters in Wellington to support the operation "following ongoing protest activity that is unreasonably impacting the city". 

Coster said protestors had "not taken up the offer and nor have they shown any concern for the negative impact of their activities", which included blocking traffic in the surrounding area - forcing some businesses to close - and reports of locals being harassed. 

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said on Wednesday a number of vehicles were voluntarily moved, and he was "encouraged by influencers within the group calling for roads to be cleared", but "it will take some time for this conversation to work its way through to a solution". 

"We've been very clear in our intent to unblock the roads and protestors have had ample opportunity to comply with the law and the standard conditions for all protests and demonstrations on Parliament grounds. This also means removing all structures such as tents and marquees."

Police last week arrested more than 120 protesters after House Speaker Trevor Mallard issued a trespass notice. But a core group remained, despite the Speaker's controversial attempts at dispersing them with sprinklers and loud music

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. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly plans to invoke special measures to give the federal government extraordinary powers to deal with protests that have shut some border crossings with the United States. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested the protest in Wellington is influenced by similar events abroad. 

"I understand that in Canada there has been an issue over whether or not there's financing that is from outside of their domestic jurisdiction. I think there are questions to be raised on what feels very much like an imported protest and activity outside," she said on Wednesday. 

"I certainly couldn't rule out a connection with groups offshore.

"The focus though at the moment, obviously, is doing something about the illegal behaviour that is currently blocking Wellingtonians from carrying on with their lives."