Audrey Young: Covid mandate Parliament protests – Luxon, Coster misread desire for unity

OPINION:

Christopher Luxon’s latest contribution to the occupation of Parliament grounds and surrounding streets reeks of opportunism.

It’s a pity; he had done quite well since taking charge of the National Party three months ago.

Just before the occupation, National was making headway on the lack of preparedness for Omicron.

It had long highlighted the failings in the Government to ensure rapid antigen testing was an integrated and widely used part of the Covid-19 response.

It was proved right.

The looming threat of closure for many businesses could have been reduced if the Government had been more nimble and less short-sighted in getting individually administered tests.

Luxon may be worrying that the momentum he was starting to build as Opposition leader will be stopped in its tracks because the political agenda ranges between two points: the occupation and Jacinda Ardern.

The last thing Luxon wants is a situation in which the public make a choice between the protesters or Ardern, because there will be only one winner.

His latest missives are an attempt to insert himself into the agenda as a unifying figure in a polarising debate and divided country.

“This is a situation entirely of the Government’s own making,” he said in a statement on Sunday. Nobody believes that.

“It is our job to find a way through that brings everyone back together,” he wrote in a Pollyanna piece in the Herald.

“We must chart a path back to that middle ground that unites us, and not allow ourselves to be divided into warring factions, inextricably and increasingly opposed,” he said in a speech today.

Luxon is seeking to elevate the demands of the protesters to end vaccine mandates to some kind of groundswell in the broader population.

“These are not the concerns of just a small group of protesters; they are the concerns of a growing and an increasingly alienated group of law-abiding New Zealanders who have fully complied with and followed the rules,” he said.

But in his bid to extend a contrived sense of alienation to the wider law-abiding population, and empathising with protesters, he risks alienating his own growing support.

Luxon and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster have misread the desire for unity and happy endings.

We can sympathise with Coster’s desire not to have a repeat of the Springbok tour and Bastion Pt, but that is too simplistic.

In a lot of the events during the tour, the police played their part perfectly adequately. The policing you would not want to see repeated, would be police brutality and unjustified use of force.

But police would be justified in using some force to clear roads, one would have thought. In a complex situation, the choices are not binary, only do-nothing or tear-gas.

In today’s speech, Luxon said vaccine mandates were becoming increasingly less relevant in a highly vaccinated population. It is a view not widely shared.

There can be no immediate resolution to the political demand of the occupiers because the imperative for having mandates in certain workforces starts now, just as the surge is starting.

Now is not the time to let unvaccinated health workers back into hospitals, schools or at the border. They will be gone in time, when the Omicron peak is over and the health system is in reasonable shape. They were always going to be

Everybody knew the rules when they made their choices.

Jacinda Ardern today held out the prospect of restrictions being eased in six weeks, including removing gathering limits, and the vaccine pass system.

That may mean a long occupation, unpleasant as that will be, if the police don’t use the mandate they have to do what the public wants.

Protesters throwing human excrement during police manoeuvres this morning reinforces the distance between us and them. They are not us, and not even close.


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