Simon Bridges, David Parker on ideas for future of Parliament's front lawn

National's Simon Bridges can't decide if he'd rather see Parliament's front lawn become a sanctuary for dairy cows or a foam bath for his fellow MPs to blow bubbles in.

It's been a distressing week for New Zealanders with the front of Parliament becoming a battle site between police and anti-vaccine mandate protesters, who lit fires and hurled pavement bricks as they were forced to leave the area they had been occupying for 23 days. 

The green front lawn is no more, with the space instead now resembling a wasteland strewn with the remnants of the occupiers' campsites as well as the chaos that unfolded on Wednesday afternoon. 

AM wanted to take a light-hearted look at what the future may be for the grounds, asking Bridges and Labour minister David Parker to choose between a number of out-of-the-box ideas for what could replace the wreckage.

"David, you can choose from a jukebox that only plays Trevor Mallard's favourite songs - so Barry Manilow, the Macarena - or a sprinkler system that is filled with bubble mixture so… it becomes kind of a big foam pit," host Melissa Chan-Green put to Parker.

The minister went for the bubbles.

Both ideas were drawn from unsuccessful attempts Mallard, Parliament's Speaker, made to dispel the protesters during the first weekend of their occupation in mid-February. Sprinklers spurting water at the demonstrators' tents were quickly covered in cones, with trenches built to divert any excess waters, while annoying music was blasted from speakers for hours. 

Bridges had a choice between allowing a herd of dairy cows to make the grounds their home or erecting a statue of Andrew Coster, the Police Commissioner Bridges has previously sparred with

"National is always wanting to ensure it's got good, strong rural support. So I'm going with the dairy cows," Bridges said. "I think that statue of the Police Commissioner would bring back bad memories for him and me."

"I just have visions of, I don't know, Gerry Brownlee and Trevor Mallard and David Parker blowing bubbles all over the lawn. It sounds delicious. Maybe that's the one."

Parker came around to the idea of dairy cows.

It's unclear though if that is part of the recovery plan that has been devised by Mallard, who says he's been working with mana whenua and volunteer groups. He promised on Wednesday night that Parliament's "beautiful grounds" would be restored and will release more information about the plan when it becomes available. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern surveyed the site on Thursday, describing it as "a lot like a dump" and saying she's been "quite upset about the playground".

The children's playground and slide were caught up in one of the blazes that tore across the grounds on Wednesday, though both survived the flames.

Parker told AM those who occupied the lawn were a "violent mob… who said that unless they got their way, they'd hang us". 

"They blocked streets, they disrupted businesses, courts could not operate, children could not go to school, journalists were harassed and threatened. When the policemen did their sworn duty, they attacked the police and assaulted them. This was a direct attack on the rule of law."

Looking forward, Parker said we need to look at the "influences from overseas and through social media for people who go down rabbit holes". 

"Some of those people out there were misguided. Others were just deluded, thinking that the Government was sending radiation at them that they would protect themselves from with foil hats. Social media is one of the underlying reasons for that. 

"I was pleased to see the prime minister say that even beyond the Christchurch Call following the Christchurch terrorist attack, she thinks we should be looking at those things more broadly."

Bridges said there will be consequences for those involved in the violence and believes we need to learn from the incident. But he also doesn't want to see people's freedoms constrained as a result. 

"I believe in people's liberty, I think we have to be very careful, whether it is a fence around Parliament or what it is, before we move on those things. 

"I think that whilst we can all condemn the protesters and the arson and the violence and so on, there is a broader frustration in New Zealand. You know, it has been a complicated and increasingly messy couple of years."

More than 100 people were arrested during the police raid on the grounds. They are facing charges including arson, grievous bodily harm, inciting violence, theft, assault, trespass and obstruction. A number of police officers were hospitalised due to injuries they suffered.

Protesters had refused to leave the site over the last three weeks, claiming they would only do so if vaccine mandates were removed. Many blocked surrounding streets with their vehicles, while others hurled abuse at members of the public and death threats towards politicians and members of the media.