This has been a big day for the protesters in Wellington, for two things that have occurred away from the Freedom Village.
First, the government has announced, "All school students would now be able to participate in school activities despite if they were vaccinated or not and gathering limits would no longer apply when unvaccinated students were participating."
In other words, mandates for kids have been dropped. Clearly, the government did not say it that simply because they did not want to be seen to be backing down to the protesters, but that's exactly what they have done.
Anyone watching the impartial live streaming from the Freedom Village would have noticed the many placards specifically referring to mandating children. The problem for Labour is the people holding the signs were not far-right activists nor were they members of the "river of filth". They were ordinary everyday mums and dads concerned about their kids - many of whom were likely to have been Labour Party supporters at the last election. The protesters are winning - just the government won't admit it.
The second significant event today was a decision from the High Court. The High Court has quashed the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for police and defence force staff. Justice Cooke upheld a claim that the vaccination order breached the Bill of Rights Act. He referred to two sections of that Act, sections 11 and 15:
S11 states, "Everyone has the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment."
S15 states, "Every person has the right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private."
This is hugely significant, and amusingly ironic. It's significant because the decision will set a precedent for others. If the rights of the police and defence force workers have been breached because of the mandates, then so too have the rights of everyone.
It's ironic because the police will not now be subject to mandates that were to come into effect on 1 March, due to the actions of someone protesting the mandates. Perhaps the police officers at the Parliament protest should reflect on that. They don't need to thank the protesters personally but how about letting the food trucks into the camp and allowing the toilets to be cleaned.
The High Court decision poses a major problem for the government.
If they appeal, they will be seen to be heavy-handed and authoritarian (which they are).
If they say the decision only applies to the police and armed services then they will be seen to be duplicitous (which they are).
If they remove all mandates then even the mainstream media will not be able to deny the government has been defeated by the protesters.
Whatever course of action the government takes it will lose, and it won't be the end of the matter. Jacinda Ardern will need to explain to the public why her government acted unlawfully and why the imposition of mandates was not done for medical reasons. Here the Judge’s comments are relevant.
He is reported (by RNZ) to have said:
"In essence, the order mandating vaccinations for police and NZDF staff was imposed to ensure the continuity of the public services, and to promote public confidence in those services, rather than to stop the spread of Covid-19. Indeed health advice provided to the government was that further mandates were not required to restrict the spread of Covid-19. I am not satisfied that continuity of these services is materially advanced by the order," he said. (emphasis added.)
"Covid-19 clearly involves a threat to the continuity of police and NZDF services. That is because the Omicron variant in particular is so transmissible. But that threat exists for both vaccinated and unvaccinated staff. I am not satisfied that the order makes a material difference, including because of the expert evidence before the court on the effects of vaccination on Covid-19 including the Delta and Omicron variants." (emphasis added.)
Here is the evidence that the mandates were not required for medical reasons. Surely all mandates must now be removed, immediately.
And then there is potential for the government to face a class action damages claim from the many thousands of people who have suffered humiliation or financial loss as a result of the mandates. I think specifically of those in the medical profession, but also teachers, and others.
One of the most telling images of the last couple of days was the sight of Secret Service staff running beside the Prime Minister's vehicle as she was hastily extracted from a media staged photo opportunity at a school near Christchurch. It was a scene reminiscent of the 1993 movie, In the Line of Fire (the one where a puffing and panting Clint Eastwood and other security men run beside the President’s car). This is not normal in New Zealand. It's not who we are, but it's who we have become because of Jacinda Ardern. The Prime Minister can't go anywhere now without being roundly heckled.
The Prime Minister has dismissed the Christchurch protesters as a minority not representative of New Zealand. She has told the Wellington protesters they can go home now. They of course haven't because they have stopped listening to the Prime Minister and the mainstream media which is now being dubbed the team of 55 million (referring to the $55m Public Interest Journalism Fund). Respect has turned to derision and derision has turned into abuse.
Jacinda Ardern must surely know that the walls of humiliation are closing in on her. The question is will she resign while her reputation overseas is still intact, or will she stick out another 18 months of derision.
She should resign.
Political commentator Frank Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.