A mob of passionate protesters failed to deter Prime Minister John Key from delivering a post-Budget address today to around 900 business leaders who paid upwards of $350 to hear him speak.
More than 100 protesters organised by the Auckland Action Against Poverty group gathered outside Auckland's SkyCity Convention Centre to protest against a perceived "war on the poor''.
More than 20 police officers formed human barriers to block entrances to the convention centre, the neighbouring Grand Hotel and Federal House on Federal St, to prevent the protesters storming Mr Key's post-Budget address, hosted by the Trans-Tasman Business Circle.
A Business Circle spokeswoman said just under 900 people attended the address. Members paid $375, while non-members were charged $550.
Outside the event, bemused tourists were escorted from their taxis by police and ushered through a heavily guarded side door.
One of the protest organisers, Blockade the Budget spokesman Tim Lamasse, said they were protesting against continued cuts to tertiary education.
Class sizes were increasing, government funding was decreasing and university rankings had been dropping under the National Government, he said. "We've had enough."
Photo / Dean Purcell
Inside the convention centre, Mr Key began his speech by saying Finance Minister Bill English was disappointed that the Budget had been dropped as the lead story from a major news website by 8pm yesterday in place of a story about a cat saving a boy from a dog. However, it showed there were no great shocks in the Budget, Mr Key said.
"I was actually quite relieved because I thought it could be yet another story about Stephanie Key taking off another item of clothing.''
Referencing the protesters still gathered outside, Mr Key apologised if Business Circle members had to navigate "our friends outside'', adding that as the protest had been organised before the Budget was released, it was highly unlikely they were aware of its contents.
"Maybe they should go away and have a bit of a look at it first, before they consider what they're protesting about.''
Photo / Dean Purcell
Mr Key also used his address to say it was important to get the country's books back in order and releasing a Budget with a surplus, no matter how small, was a sign the country's economy was coming right.
"No one owes us a living, and actually if the chips are down, no one's necessarily going to lend to us.
"Having our books in order and having debt at acceptable levels for a small country at the bottom of the world is a very important issue. If you don't get that, in the end it's called Greece.''
Mr Key told the audience that two of the biggest factors driving the country forward were exports to Asia and technology, however one of the biggest issues holding us back was the 20 per cent of students leaving school "hopelessly, inadequately trained'' with skills to compete in the modern world.
"The days of going to the freezing works and working there for the rest of your lives - they're over.''