ANALYSIS: Anti-vaccine protesters were rattling the chains locking them out of Parliament House as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins went head-to-head for the first time in a month.
The protesters, led by conspiracy-monger and failed political aspirant Billy Te Kahika, were a calamitous Wednesday afternoon sideshow.Hurling abuse and insults through the gates and glass at reporters, singing loudly over ministers being questioned, covering windows with placards.
While they were free to occupy Parliament’s stairs to wave “TRUMP 2020” and Q-Anon flags – this being a democracy – Speaker Trevor Mallard did ask a handful of imposing men who showed up dressed as private security guards to stand among the protestors, to avoid confusion.
Parliament’s actual security guard were twitchy, standing at windows to keep a watchful eye.
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Back in the debating chamber for Question Time, the Labour MPs were laughing off the naysayers. Not the protesters outside, but the National Party across the aisle.
Collins has been ranging through a series issues to hammer the Government with in recent weeks, but on Wednesday afternoon she chose against pursuing her latest claim, a need for a referendum on the use of “Aotearoa”.
Like a bulldog, Collins sunk her teeth into an attack line which helped kick off her “Demand the Debate” campaign, which she had launched when Parliament entered a lengthy recess three weeks prior – otherwise known as a break from debate.
“Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a difference between the Salvation Army and the Mongrel Mob?,” she asked.
Ardern was aware of this, of course. The programme was the same as that funded by the National Government, she said, and it was Hard2Reach being funded, not the Mob.
“The member should be familiar with Hard2Reach. Her Government funded it also … Yet another example of when in Government the member has one view, and when in Opposition takes a vastly different one.”
The prime minister deployed the “hypocrisy” line frequently on Wednesday. And given Collins’ pursuit of attack lines that bulldoze over previous National Government positions, this will likely become a catchcry for the Government in the coming weeks.
“The member will know that from her time in Corrections, or has she forgotten now that she is in Opposition?” Ardern asked.
If the National Party was emboldened by Labour’s 9.7 point drop in the weekend’s Newshub/Reid Research poll, they weren’t showing it.
And though it was probably the right strategy to target Labour Minister-for-most-things Kris Faafoi, who is under pressure, they needed help from Faafoi himself to land a blow.
National’s broadcast and media spokeswoman, Melissa Lee, sought to probe Faafoi on whether the Government had bought favourable media coverage with a $50 million Covid-19 support package.
“What will he do to end any taxpayer-funded political bias in our media?” she asked.
Faafoi – who has been subject of highly-critical reports and opinion pieces about his management of many large portfolios – took a humoured potshot at himself.
“If the member is continuing the allegation that in any way the taxpayer funding that is supporting our media is giving a biased opinion of the media, I suggest she read Newsroom today for a ‘glowing’ précis of my performance.”
The bulk of the Labour MPs stayed on to cheerlead Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, as he trumpeted his Government in a debate after Question Time, buoyed by new unemployment figures no one can say are bad news.
“If the Opposition want to debate the economy, if they want to debate unemployment, if they want to debate healthcare, if they want to debate education, we are right there with them … But they don’t seem to want to debate those things,” he said.
“Apparently, it has just come to their attention that some people refer to New Zealand as Aotearoa. Stop the clock. Apparently, this is news to them … Never mind the fact that it’s been on our money. It’s been on our money since the National Party were in Government.”
Again the hypocrisy line. Seven National MPs remained in the House to hear this, their heads buried in their cellphones.
They must have been distracted because, when asked by the Speaker to give a speech in response, no National MP stood up.