Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern slates 'irresponsible' ACT leader David Seymour for engaging with Parliament protesters

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it was "irresponsible" of ACT leader David Seymour to meet with a Parliament protest "intermediary" to deliver conditions to be met for dialogue.

Seymour said on Wednesday he met with the unnamed intermediary at the Backbencher, a pub across the road from Parliament, that was forced to close due to the week-long protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other rules.

Seymour, who was joined by ACT MP Nicole McKee, said the conditions he delivered included removing vehicles blocking the roads around Parliament and Victoria University, and a guarantee that no more abuse would be hurled at passersby. 

Ardern has so far refused to engage with the protesters, who have camped outside Parliament in tents since early last week. 

"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. 

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. 

Ardern suggested the protest in Wellington had been influenced by 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. 

"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."

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

The National Party on Wednesday lodged a notice of motion of no confidence in the Speaker over his actions towards the protesters. 

It's not the first time. National lost confidence in Mallard in December 2020 over revelations that $333,000 in taxpayer money was spent to settle his legal battle over controversial comments he made about a former parliamentary staffer.

Ardern called for MPs to focus on safety. 

"Right now, I think every party in Parliament should be focussed on two things: firstly, making sure we are working hard to look after New Zealanders through this stage of the pandemic rather than dismantling the protections that we need at this very moment.

"The second thing is the fact that there is - outside - activity that has tipped into a space of being illegal activity that is obstructing others, rather than having an internal political debate with the Speaker.

But there's one thing Labour and National do agree on: not engaging with the protesters - something National leader Christopher Luxon is not keen on. 

"No, our view very clearly is there's a broad range of interests there, there's a broad range of groups there, and as I've said before it's a group that's impinging on others' freedoms. We respect people's right to protest but they need to be able to do that within the rule of law," Luxon told reporters on Wednesday. 

Seymour wants dialogue with them. 

"We need to be clear that those are the preconditions for talking. But there also needs to be a mature de-escalation from the Speaker of the House calling people feral, to turning on sprinklers and playing loud music," the ACT leader said. 

"If we don't have that, I don't think that we have a way forward and I don't think it would be in the best traditions of New Zealand for the stand-off to continue as it currently is."

Seymour acknowledged there were views being shared by protesters that he did not agree with, such as anti-vaccination. 

"There's quite a range of people there. In my listening to people, there were people that have views on vaccinology that I just think are absolutely out-to-lunch, there were also people that are vaccinated and have concerns about the way people haven't been listened to and they can't take their kids to swimming, or whatever."

Seymour said a large part of the protesters' concern was that "they feel no one is listening to them and that's not going to happen on any scale with MPs out on the forecourt until those conditions are met". 

"I believe a member of the Government should meet with them. It's not often the Prime Minister meets with a protest like that but if those conditions are met I think they should," he said. 

"I don't think we're ever going to glue this country back together if the response from Labour and some parliamentarians is to call them feral, turn on sprinklers and play ugly music at them."