Like all protests the, initially legal, anti-vaccine mandate gathering currently paralysing Wellington quickly generated it’s own energy and velocity with a wide range of unconnected and vaguely associated causes, groups and individuals attracted to the free publicity like flies to an abandoned dirty nappy.
The Government’s opening response to the arrival of Covid-19 almost three years ago was to close the borders and lock the country down to buy time for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in the community, to be vaccinated against the virus. It was without doubt one of the most successful responses in the world and it has been amended and adjusted as requirements have dictated. It is easy to find minor faults in the implementation of such a system but reasonable criticism quickly grew to unreasonable and ill-informed protest.
Like the 1981 protests against the Springbok rugby tour and nuclear weapons, the founding cause, and the usually honest and peaceful originators, quickly became swamped by a flood of not-so-honest camp followers. These parasites tag along for the thrill of undetectable lawless conduct and because it’s the only way they can get an audience for their often illogical, outrageously stupid and sometimes dangerous campaigns which nobody else really understands or wants to know about.
In addition to the original peaceful and legal anti-mandate protest we have seen banners from Gay Rights, Maori Sovereignty, Free the Weed, Donald Trump supporters, various gangs, Flat Earthers, anti-1080 campaigners, so called churches and a host of others from the lunatic fringe. Wellington streets have been blocked for almost two weeks and there has been assaults on uninvolved people and threats violence and death against anyone and everyone from the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament to police and journalists simply trying to do their jobs.
In spite of this clearly illegal and contradictory conduct from a protest supposedly about freedoms, public support for the protest is growing, not diminishing. No one is sure why, but the inadequate police response and immediacy and extent of social media mis-information is only part of the answer.
The protest started out as an objection to what has become known as vaccine mandates with an underlying suggestion that vaccinations have become, particularly for some employees, compulsory by default. They have not and cannot become compulsory under New Zealand law, not even in a civil emergency such as this one.
The Government resolved very early in the campaign that, to slow down if not stop, the spread of the virus only those people who have been vaccinated can work in close association with the general public. That also means some places of public gathering have been closed to unvaccinated people. It obviously came as something of a surprise that many people chose to leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated and many have objected to being refused entry to some public facilities. That was their choice, no one made it for them, and the consequences are of their own making.
There will come a time soon however when it will be reasonable to assume that everyone who intendeds to be vaccinated has done so and that those who stubbornly refuse to, never will. At that point it will be equally reasonable to abandon them to their fate. But, as they will still pose a risk to people around them, even those who have been vaccinated, and they will still have the potential to overload our health system and hospitals, will it still be reasonable to require vaccine passes for work and public facilities? Many will think so.
It would be easy, and with some justification, to dismiss this gathering of disaffected and noisy dissidents as a pack of ill-informed and wilfully ignorant trouble makers. But is there more to it than that? The only obvious common denominator between so many groups so far seems to be a general distrust of Government and authority and, while there will always be some in the community with the traditional “agin the guvmint”, attitude, the current level of distrust and deliberate defiance of logic surpasses anything previously seen in New Zealand and that should not be ignored.
One of the probably causes, which no one so far wants to discuss, is the flood of unseen, unprecedented and almost unreported series of major changes across all sectors of the community without any form of voter mandate. These changes, introduced while the nation is preoccupied with Covid-19, include an overly ambitious and poorly planned Government transfer of the management of drinking water, storm water and sewage from local authorities to a yet-to-be established four new entities, the biggest overhaul of district and regional councils in a lifetime and the emergence of co-governance of the country between the Crown and Maori who represent about 15 percent of the population.
Adding to that problem is the little-known fact that the independence of news media has been compromised. Grants from a Government funded $55million contestable fund for public interest journalism requires an undertaking to recognise Maori as treaty partners in the governance of the country when the community at large has never been asked for an opinion or to approve that controversial concept. As a result, anything with supposed “anti-Maori” connotations simply does not get published in our newspapers.
What little reliable information we have from Government about these proposed developments has been drip fed and most people know little about them. Promises to district councils of voluntary participation have been blatantly broken by Government ministers, full public consultation has become a sham and there are moves to have Maori appointed to full membership of at least one regional council entirely without election. This latest development is so far outside the norms of democracy that it will require a special Act of Parliament.
With these things going on largely unseen and unreported in the background is there any wonder that suspicion, resentment and distrust have grown to such a degree. Perhaps the anti-mandate protest was merely a much-needed platform for deeply held objection to a Socialist-Dictatorship-by-Stealth to be heard.