Protesters stop budget meeting

Voices for freedom protest against a budget speech in Masterton on Wednesday evening. PHOTO/GEORGE SHIERS

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Police advised government ministers Grant Robertson and Kieran McAnulty to cancel a public budget meeting in Masterton on Wednesday night after protesters broke up meetings further north earlier in the day.

Speaking to The Times-Age on the way back to Wellington, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said protesters interrupted a question and answer session on the 2022 budget in Dannevirke and threatened ministers as they left.

“There was a group of anti-mandate, anti-vaccination protesters that came to the meeting, and they weren’t really interested in hearing about the budget — they wanted to make their points,” Robertson said.

“We tried to carry on, and I managed to finish my presentation and answer a few questions, but they were very disruptive and, in the end, we had to cancel the meeting.

Robertson said when he and Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty tried to leave, protesters hurled abuse at them and were “generally threatening”.

The police had to help the ministers to get back to their vehicle.

“They were trying to reach us as we got to the car. We had a few policemen with us, and they were able to help us into the vehicle.

“They were throwing the usual abuse and threats, as this small, very vocal group unfortunately does.”

Robertson said he understands protesters arrived at the meeting from Palmerston North and the Manawatu area. The ministers had already held a meeting in Waipukurau before the Dannevirke meeting was called off.

Police advised ministers not to proceed with the Masterton meeting after learning that some protesters were planning to travel south.

Robertson said the protest activity prevented constructive discussion.

“It’s important to go out there and talk to people and hear about the issues that matter to them.

“We have largely succeeded in doing so. I’ve had a dozen or more meetings across the country that haven’t had it.

He said he planned to continue meeting people about the budget, but had to heed advice from the police.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the protest was frustrating after a year in which he had faced several threats to his safety.

“I couldn’t use my mobile office [due to threats]. I finally got permission to do so, and they reappear and disrupt something that was going to be a great opportunity.

Wairarapa Senior Sergeant Ian Osland said he understood some of the protesters from previous meetings were traveling to Masterton for a budget session scheduled for 5.30pm at Farriers Bar and Eatery.

“The advice was to err on the side of caution given their behavior further north where they barricaded people and tried to stop people leaving.”

Osland said the protesters’ action was “not quite kidnapping” but amounted to “forced detention of people”.

He said about 15 people with signs gathered outside Farriers just after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“Given the time of night, the darkness, the high volume intersection, we advised that … if the same people come, it’s probably appropriate to meet again.”

Osland said the Dannevirke protesters were a “conglomerate” of different groups and causes.

A person outside Farriers on Wednesday night said they were protesting Grant Robertson’s decisions as finance minister.

Another said he protested the government’s use of vaccination mandates.

Other protesters gathered at the opening of a Christchurch high school attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday. It was unclear whether the protests were linked.

  • Additional reporting by George Shiers

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