When the Prime Minister arrives in Auckland today it will have been 85 days since she last visited. Much like Tuesday’s protest at Parliament, a lot of precautions are being taken, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Analysis: They are the minority, but the protesters who have turned up to interrupt the Prime Minister and disrupt her engagements over the past week have had an impact.
Jacinda Ardern’s itinerary is mostly under lock and key as she heads to Auckland today after her scheduled movements made it to multiple social media sites when she visited Whanganui last week.
Protesters causing problems for those trying to get vaccinated at a Whanganui clinic Ardern was set to visit meant she pulled the plug and headed elsewhere.
In Northland a week earlier she had to call her media conference to a halt and change location after a few noisy protesters took over.
These are by no means large numbers, nor were the thousands who turned up on Parliament’s front lawn on Tuesday.
“We will vaccinate more people today – in just one day – than turned up to that protest.”
– Ayesha Verrall, assoc health minister
Both the seabed and foreshore and climate action protests drew far bigger crowds than the roughly 5000 who showed up – although with Auckland in lockdown it may not have been a fair representation of what could have been.
Regardless, the fact 89 percent of eligible New Zealanders have now received their first dose of Pfizer paints a clear picture that most are on board with the merits of vaccination.
Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall summed it up best when she tweeted, “we will vaccinate more people today – in just one day – than turned up to that protest’’.
While it’s a small minority, it is a noisy one, and the anger and hate in some of the messaging and verbal attacks on both politicians and journalists at Parliament showed there is cause for some concern.
But even before thousands turned up to shout at Ardern’s Beehive office, her security detail and staff had made decisions around how best to protect her in Auckland.
An advisory normally goes out to media a day or two in advance but this time around only a small group of accredited journalists are being told details about times and locations.
Some might see it as over the top, in the same way the number of police on site at Parliament could be interpreted that way.
The number of uniformed officers who made their way out onto the Parliament forecourt by the end of the protest wasn’t even the full extent of the police presence.
Dozens were inside keeping watch and ready to head out at any sign things might be about to kick off.
As tensions ramped up and the crowd approached Parliament steps, a number did come out to form a frontier and protect barricades that had been set up – coupled with Parliament security it was a sizeable wall.
They weren’t needed in such numbers to stop the protesters, but the messages flying around social media including threats of storming the building meant they were prepared anyway.
A similar approach is warranted with Ardern’s visit – even if it ultimately comes to nothing.
Ardern has done her very best to completely ignore the thousands who marched the length of Lambton Quay to shout and chant on Parliament’s lawn.
Their message was confused at times with a range of flags and protest placards covering off a multitude of issues.
But one of the organisers running the show with a microphone and sound system – a provision allowed and catered for by Parliament – was clear that if the Government didn’t withdraw its mandates and give New Zealanders their freedoms back by Friday then chaos would ensue.
That chaos will be in the form of “national gridlock’’ shutting down main roads and highways to make their point.
Ardern wasn’t interested in commenting on what that might mean, saying her message was to those who had gone and got vaccinated and done their bit to protect each other.
She’d given zero consideration to going and meeting the protesters and said she was focused on looking ahead and returning some normality to people’s lives.
Ardern wasn’t the only one who stayed put behind locked doors.
No MPs ventured out onto the Parliament forecourt to address the protest – a united decision not often seen in years gone by.
Yet just an hour after the protest wrapped up MPs were back in the House scrapping it out over Covid restrictions.
Political consensus is rare and, in this case, short-lived.