As protesters prepare to descend on Parliament, roads are closed throughout the capital so that police can ensure Wellingtonians don’t see a repeat of the 23-day-long occupation of the central city.
A large protest spearheaded by Brian Tamaki’s Freedoms and Rights Coalition is planned for Thursday, with convoys heading from the Far North and from the South Island.
The “Abandon Agenda 2030″ Protest is scheduled to kick off on Thursday with members of the Freedoms and Rights Coalition making their way across the country from Bluff and Cape Reinga.
Meanwhile, police are preparing by closing roads, having tow trucks on standby, and bringing in a special team of 88 public order policing officers from around the country.
There are also bollards set up at the gates of Parliament.
Acting Superintendent Wade Jennings said he expected there to be at least 120-130 police in Wellington during the day.
He said it was difficult at this stage to get a clear number of how many protesters were coming, but police were planning for a large number.
Police have been planning for the protest for several weeks and were well-placed to respond to a number and range of scenarios.
“For those coming to march and protest at Parliament, we respect people’s right to demonstrate peacefully in support of their cause, but we are prepared to take enforcement action if it stops being peaceful.
“We will have a very low tolerance for any structures being set up on the grounds, and we do have the ability to mobilise additional staff quickly if required. Tow trucks will be on standby in the city.”
He also asked the public to be their eyes and ears, particularly on Lambton Quay, during the march.
“We will likely want to see any video footage of unlawful activity, and people can report this through 105. But we are also asking that people don’t intervene or compromise their own safety.”
Jennings also said he had a message for protesters.
“Welcome to Wellington. Please park your car legally. Enjoy your walk to Parliament through our city. Enjoy your [time] on Parliament grounds. Have your say, have your voices heard. Leave Parliament and have a safe journey home.”
Bollards in place outside Parliament.
Who is protesting?
The Freedoms and Rights Coalition led by Destiny Church founder and political hopeful Brian Tamaki is a “people’s movement” which formed in 2021 in opposition to the Government’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions.
The group participated in the 2022 occupation of Parliament which ended in a fiery clash with police as they were forcibly removed.
Protesters at Parliament in March 2022. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The group has held several other protests since, including a “People’s Court” on Parliament grounds in August 2022.
With Covid-19 restrictions now lifted, the group has pivoted to opposing “reckless” Government spending, standing up for religious rights and resisting what it says is Government intervention in family life.
Rick Southey "convicted" the Government in a mock trial at Parliament. Photo / George Heard
There are still sections on the FRC website which reference “never-ending lockdowns” and Covid management.
As well as Tamaki’s protest, protesters from farmers advocacy group Groundswell are also making their way past Wellington en route to Auckland on Thursday.
The Drive 4 Change event will be travelling north on State Highway 1 from Timaru to Christchurch over the weekend, and through to Wellington on Thursday as part of participants’ drive all the way to Auckland.
A spokesperson said the protest is not one of the groups heading to Parliament and will be bypassing Wellington city.
What are they protesting?
However, Thursday’s protest is not to do with Covid-19 but rather the United Nations.
The name of the protest “Abandon Agenda 2023″ is a reference to the national conference Agenda 2030, which looks at New Zealand’s progress on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. One of the keynote speakers for the conference is former director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Marty Melville
The goals are not written into legislation, but are voluntarily reported by the countries which have signed up. They include things like ending poverty, promoting peace and ensuring people are leading healthy lives.
The conference was scheduled at Parliament for Thursday but has now been moved online as a result of safety concerns due to the protest.
What roads are closed?
Several bus routes will be disrupted, possibly for days due to the protest and road closures.
Police Acting Superintendent Wade Jennings said parts of Hill St between Molesworth St and Guildford Terrace will be closed to general traffic from midnight tonight and restrictions for general traffic will also be in place for Kate Sheppard Place, and Bunny St near the bus depot.
There are also significant roadworks near Molesworth/Hawkestone Streets, and on Aitken Street and police say this will further restrict vehicle movement.
Police will have a high visibility to provide reassurance to the community.
From Wednesday detours will be in place for the 14, 22, 81 and 84 routes. All stops on Molesworth St are closed.
A road block in place on Bowen St. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
Metlink will have staff on the ground, including at the bus exchange, monitoring the situation.
“The safety of our passengers and people is our top priority, as is minimising any disruption to the wider public transport network,” says Metlink group manager Samantha Gain.
Wellington City Council spokeswoman Victoria Barton-Chapple said the council was aware that protest groups were converging on Wellington’s CBD.
“A number of road closures and diversions are in place.”
Molesworth Street closure map. Photo / Metlink
Barton-Chapple said the protesters had not submitted a traffic management plan, but the council had received one from the police and approved it.
The plan will be in place from this evening.
“It’s recommended commuters and people who work or move through the area plan ahead, and while we anticipate there will be more people in the area, we will endeavour to keep traffic disruption to a minimum.”
What businesses are affected?
An email to Stats NZ seen by the Herald encouraged workers to avoid wearing their government IDs and lanyards outside the building and be “extra mindful” of people entering doors behind them.
“Be aware that public transport may be impacted. If you plan to work at [the office] this Thursday, you may want to avoid the areas where the protesters are likely to be.”
An email sent to staff working in Parliament asked “as many people as possible” to work from home.
“Our people’s safety and security are our key priority, and additional security measures will be in place on the day.”
The Terrace Medical Centre is also encouraging patients to take virtual appointments “wherever possible” due to road closure and traffic issues as a result of the protest
“We are unsure of exact road closures at this point, however, the roads surrounding Parliament will be closed for safety reasons so parking will be extremely limited. We would suggest that unless you need to come in, that you have a phone or video consult with your GP instead.”
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is also recommending its staff work from home.
“MBIE has been monitoring the situation around this week’s planned protest activities. At this stage, with most of the protest activity expected to occur in the Wellington CBD on Thursday, 28 September 2023, we have recommended that our people leaders support our staff to work from home on Thursday if they choose to do so.
“For those who are in the workplace, we have additional security measures in place to ensure they remain safe.”
Vita Molyneux is a Wellington-based journalist who covers breaking news and stories from the capital. She has been a journalist since 2018 and joined the Herald in 2021.
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