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Passenger rail protesters join select committee while blocking State Highway 1

Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Thu, 27 Oct 2022, 3:29pm

Passenger rail protesters join select committee while blocking State Highway 1

Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Thu, 27 Oct 2022, 3:29pm

Protesters who have repeatedly caused havoc in Wellington traffic joined Parliament’s transport select committee to advocate for inter-regional passenger rail, while they blocked State Highway 1 near Johnsonville and were later taken into custody.

The unusual setting for the submission prompted National transport spokesman Simeon Brown to heckle the protester and hold up a sign stating “Stop Blocking Motorways”, and led to committee chair Shanan Halbert temporarily closing the public meeting until the committee unanimously decided against allowing the protester to make a submission while conducting illegal activity.

Halbert also admonished Brown for his heckling and sign, saying it was not appropriate behaviour.

Members of the protest group, Restore Passenger Rail, had plagued Wellington commuters on several occasions, including climbing motorway gantries, hanging signs above traffic and glueing themselves to the road.

Three protesters were scheduled as the first submitters to the transport select committee this morning that was discussing the future of inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand.

One woman appeared to the committee via Zoom but experienced issues with her audio, meaning committee members couldn’t hear her but could see she had climbed a gantry above State Highway 1 near Johnsonville that had forced the closure of the motorway in both directions.

Brown, who had brought a sign opposing the protest action with him in anticipation of the submission, poked fun at the woman, saying she must have “put some glue over the microphone”, which drew a chuckle from Halbert.

He then asked the woman, “what motorway are you blocking today?”

When her audio could not be fixed, the committee moved on to the second submitter, Low Carbon Kapiti, and planned to return to the protester.

National's transport spokesman Simeon Brown. Photo / Mark MitchellNational's transport spokesman Simeon Brown. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Before the committee could re-engage the protester, Brown entered a point of order and articulated his opposition to hearing her submission.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate we listen to them while they’re actively breaking the law so I would suggest that we move on to the next submitter,” he said.

National MP David Bennett echoed his colleague, saying allowing the submission would set a dangerous precedent.

 “It’s a mock of the political process and an abuse of power by them and we shouldn’t be condoning any illegal behaviour and if we accept them submitting from where they are we are effectively supporting their illegal behaviour and I think that’s a precedent that this committee does not want to set.”

Halbert, speaking to the Herald after the committee meeting, said the protesters had been disallowed from submitting while on the gantry but had been invited to have their say at another session.

“I certainly want to hear from them, but they need to respect the platform too.”

Halbert, who had been committee chair for just five weeks, said it was also inappropriate of any committee members to antagonise submitters, in a reference to Brown’s comments and sign.

“I don’t condone any heckling of people who are submitting to our committee ... it’s important that our ears are turned on.”

There had been roughly 1800 submissions on the topic of inter-regional passenger rail and Halbert said the committee would consider hosting submission sessions outside of Wellington in regions that had high submission levels, such as Auckland, Christchurch and Horowhenua.

National MP Chris Penk added his two cents on the protesters on Twitter, saying an RNZ story on the protest action was an “interesting article about how the police should use tasers more”.

A police spokesperson confirmed three people had been taken into custody and charges were being considered.

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