Anti-mandate protest: Michael Wood defends 'river of filth' comment as Simon Bridges accuses Govt of making police's job harder

Deputy Leader of the House Michael Wood is defending saying there was a "river of filth" behind the violent behaviour seen at the Parliament protest amid criticism it made police's job harder. 

On Thursday the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) confirmed it is investigating the policing of the protests on Parliament grounds earlier in the year.

But the IPCA only has the authority to investigate police actions - so it won't be able to make determinations around whether the right calls were made by others, like Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard, who blasted protesters with sprinklers and 'Baby Shark' or Wood's "river of filth" comment. 

Speaking with AM on Friday, Wood said the IPCA needs to investigate in the first instance without distraction. 

"I would keep an open mind [about a wider investigation]… Obviously, the focus of the Government at this time is continuing to keep New Zealanders safe from COVID and move forward with the economic recovery, but we haven't ruled in or out how we might approach that issue. In the first instance we want to let the IPCA get on with their work without distractions," he said. 

Wood also defended his comments saying he was calling out violent and extremist behaviour. 

"I made that comment in a very precise way and when I spoke, this is all on record, I expressed considerable sympathy for many of the people who were there, the fact that many of them have had a really hard time, many of them have been subject to a huge amount of information. But there was behaviour including extreme violence, extreme threats of violence, antisemitism, harassment and it was that behaviour I was describing. 

"My view was that behaviour and that extremist element that underlay some of the behaviour needed to be identified. I believed that some of the forces that were gathering there out the front of Parliament were dangerous, were violent, were antithetical to our Parliamentary democracy and I think it was important to point out those behaviours. But I made a distinction between that behaviour and the people themselves." 

The Labour MP made the infamous comment during a warning to colleagues about offering support to the anti-mandate protesters. 

At the time, Wood said he was concerned by some of the "drifting rhetoric" from Opposition MPs about the protest.

"The words I say now I say with some precision and I say really carefully because I think we need to take great care with this," he told the House at the time. 

"Out the front of this place, there are people who I think we all feel for. There are some people who are confused, there are some people who are scared, there are some people who have been manipulated by an avalanche of misinformation.

"There are some people who have been hurt over the past couple of years and they're lashing out.

"We feel for those people. But underneath all of that, there is a river of filth."

While he didn't criticise Wood's comment, outgoing National MP Simon Bridges told AM the Government as a whole made police's job harder during the protests. 

"Politicians in the heat of the moment get things wrong, look I certainly have. So I'm not going to cast stones at poor old Michael in this instance," Bridges said. 

"I think though in the end, whether it's what the Speaker did, whether it's what Michael said, what they did do was they made the police's job at a level harder and so in that regard it would have been better if it wasn't said."

Wood hit back at that suggesting AM co-host Ryan Bridge and Simon Bridges were making excuses for "some of the most appalling behaviour". 

But that claim was rubbished by Ryan Bridge. 

"No, absolutely not. Don't be ridiculous, Minister. I am sorry but I am not going to have you come on this program and say that we are somehow sympathising with protesters."

Woods then said the people who were throwing bricks at police and being violent had responsibility for their actions, not anyone else. 

In response, Bridge asked whether Wood would take responsibility for his actions - to which he replied, "of course".  

"I do and I have just explained exactly my views, and that was to condemn violent and antisemitic behaviour," Wood said. "I think those things do need to be called out but we can do that and also recognise that sometimes people need assistance to reintegrate back into society." 

The IPCA says 1900 separate complaints were made about police's actions at the protest - more than it has ever received in relation to a single event.

The investigation is expected to be finished in March next year.