National | Novel Coronavirus / COVID-19

Force 'option' tabled to end Parliament Protests

Andrew Coster the Police Commissioner says protest at Parliament 'can't go on forever' / NZME, Dean Purcell

Police commissioner Andrew Coster is warning force could eventually be ‘the only option’ to remove protesters outside Parliament, but that it would be a last resort.

In an interview with Stuff, Coster conceded crowds in Wellington increased again yesterday, with more than 1000 people on the lawn outside the beehive and 750 tents erected in the area.

“This can’t go on forever, very clearly’ Coster said.

“We have a focus on de-escalating and aiming to constrain and reduce the size of the protest and the impact on the city. If we don’t see success with this strategy, then we will have to look to other things.

“There would come a point in time when [force] is the only option,” he said.

Live feed of parliament protests in Pōneke / NZME

Coster branded the protests ‘unlawful and unreasonable’ saying it had ‘crossed a line’. He said while some might have expected police to intervene on the first night, the level of confrontation required to expel protesters wouldn't have been ‘acceptable’ to the public.

‘I think police could clear the protest’ said Coster, but added they would have to ‘move in’ using batons and tear gas; tactics he likened to the Springbok tour of the 1980s, something he agreed was a low point for New Zealand history.

Celebrities including America’s Cup sailor Russell Coutts and Opshop front man Jason Kerrison have joined the anti-mandate protestors in recent days, while the chorus of concerned locals and businesses have also scaled up.

Protestors gather at the steps of Parliament more than two weeks in to the anti-mandate 'Covid Convoy' protests / NZME

Wellington City councillor Rebecca Matthews told NZME Sunday that police needed to get the situation ‘under control’ and that residents were ‘scared’ and being harassed for wearing masks.

"It seems to be happening in the direct presence of the police, and without any action being done to protect people." Matthews argued.

"We want to see some more active policing, everybody supports the right to protest, we're used to it in Welly, it's part of our city, but we don't think these people have a right to intimidate and harass Wellingtonians.”

Coster did not say what threshold or timeframe he was setting for force becoming ‘the only option’, saying the concern about expelling protestors from parliament grounds, is that it could trigger significant ‘consequences, both locally and nationally’.