ZB

Barry Soper: Govt's refusal to engage with Parliament protest is unwise if not unkind

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Tue, 15 Feb 2022, 10:37am
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Barry Soper: Govt's refusal to engage with Parliament protest is unwise if not unkind

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Tue, 15 Feb 2022, 10:37am

From the beginning the Prime Minister has preached kindness, it's her mantra, urging us all to respect each other. It's a plea she repeated again to a significantly reduced press gallery audience because it seems one of us had contracted Omicron. 

The seats usually occupied by the familiar and favoured masked faces to Jacinda Ardern were empty, which for the first time in yonks gave me a free run, even getting the first question and some follow-ups. 

Hitting my stride, she was asked about kindness and how kind it was for her close buddy and Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard to turn on the sprinklers on the parliamentary lawn being occupied by families including children. 

There's one thing Ardern's adept at doing - and that's avoiding a question by moving on to someone who deigns to put their hand up to give her a steer. 

But, of course, she wasn't about to come close to criticising Mallard anyway, simply saying he's in charge of Parliament's health, safety and security, just as the police are in charge of keeping law and order. 

She misses the point, of course, because both Mallard and the police appear to be on opposite sides with the police saying the tactics adopted by the Speaker, hiring speakers to blare out bad music and dousing the protesters during a Wellington water shortage wasn't something they would have done. Although the water shortage was rectified just as the sprinklers went on, they were being rained on from below and above, turning the pristine front lawn into a quagmire. 

And if you talk to the protesters, the only thing Mallard, who it seems enjoys provoking them, has done, is to strengthen their resolve to stay there. That's no doubt why the police are frustrated and talk to those on the front line, there's no doubt about that. 

Watching the carry-on from the safety of the Beehive, the Prime Minister clearly believes she's on firm ground painting the protesters as a bunch of anti-vax nutters. Don't know who she's had down on the mushy ground talking to them but if they were worth their salt, they would have told her a significant group of protesters are anti-mandate, like the teacher of 30 years from the Bay of Plenty who's lost his job along with his wife. 

With more than 94 percent of our population double jabbed, and all the promises Ardern made when we hit 90, of course people are frustrated. Those at parliament are also frustrated that no-one will talk to them. 

Talking to them, if you are a member of the press gallery, is inadvisable in Mallard's book. He'd prefer them on his first-floor balcony looking down at what he clearly sees as the rabble. It simply creates a them and us narrative out on the lawn. 

A lack of compliance with Mallard's advice earns a rebuke, not from him personally, but relayed through gallery officers, also with a threat there could be consequences. The day a Speaker dictates to the media how a story can be told would be a dark day for democracy. 

It fits with the current Beehive rhetoric though, a government by remote control, refusing to engage with those on the ground who don't fit their mould and that's most certainly unwise if not unkind.