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Protesters stop Budget meeting

Voices for Freedom protest a Budget speech in Masterton on Wednesday night. 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 disrupted meetings further north earlier in the day.

Speaking with the Times-Age on the way back to Wellington, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said protesters had interrupted a Budget 2022 question and answer session in Dannevirke and threatened the ministers as they were leaving.

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

“We tried to keep going, and I did manage to get through my presentation and answer a few questions, but they were very disruptive, and in the end, we had to call time on the meeting.

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

Police needed to help the ministers get back to their vehicle.

“They were trying to get to us as we were getting to the car. We had a few police with us, and they were able to assist us in getting into the vehicle.

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

Robertson said he understood protesters had 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 disrupted.

Police advised the ministers not to go ahead 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 get out there and talk to people and hear about the issues that matter to them.

“We’ve largely been able to do that. I’ve done a dozen or more meetings around the country that haven’t had this.”

He said he planned to continue meeting with people about the Budget but needed to heed the advice of 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 haven’t been able to use my mobile office [due to threats]. I finally get the clearance to do it, and they emerge again and disrupt something that was going to be a great opportunity.”

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

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

Osland said the protesters’ action was “not quite kidnapping” but amounted to “forcibly detaining people”.

He said about 15 people with placards were gathered outside Farriers just after 5pm on Wednesday.

“Given the time of night, the darkness, the high-volume intersection, we gave advice that … if the same people are coming, it’s probably appropriate to reconvene.”

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

One person outside Farriers on Wednesday night said they were protesting Grant Robertson’s decisions as Minister of Finance.

Another said they protested the government’s use of vaccine 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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