Two people have been arrested in Auckland this morning as Te Pāti Māori protests brought peak-hour traffic to a standstill.
Thousands turned out to protest against Government policies labelled “anti-Māori”.
Police say an estimated 300 cars joined the Auckland protest, which was “peaceful and the vast majority of groups dispersed relatively quickly”.
A spokesperson said the first arrest was made near Esmonde Rd on the Northern Motorway after a vehicle failed to stop for police. The vehicle was impounded. A second arrest came when a woman near Orams Rd on the Southern Motorway was arrested for disorderly behaviour.
Further south, the Waikato Expressway suffered a 3km backlog after being blocked by about 50 cars. This had a “significant impact on traffic”, police said.
Hamilton, Whakatāne, Rotorua, Tokoroa, Taupō and Palmerston North also held gatherings of about 100 people each, with minimal disruption.
A large truck in Tauranga blocked a lane on Hewletts Rd because of alleged safety concerns. Police arranged for it to be moved and made clear that using a vehicle to block the road in this way was not acceptable.
Most of the convoys have now dispersed and traffic has returned to normal. A crowd of about 200 remained at Māngere Bridge at 10am with Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up playing through loudspeakers.
Earlier, protesters parked along the motorway in Albany, blocking motorists, while State Highway 3 in Whanganui was blocked by protesters walking slowly along the highway, flying flags and playing music. A protester said on TikTok that they were walking towards the Whanganui courthouse and had plans to speak to the judge.
In Wellington, 1000 protesters gathered on Parliament grounds, where Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer addressed the crowd.
The convoys gathered about 7am in several cities and at traffic pressure points including near Auckland’s Northern Motorway at the Palmers Albany Garden Centre, near the Upper Harbour Motorway on Brigham Creek and Hobsonville Rds, and near the Southern Motorway at BP Bombay.
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Motorists reported “slow-moving” protesters in their cars crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge, creating a traffic backlog.
A commuter stuck in the chaos on State Highway 1 in Albany this morning said the protesters lined up along the motorway, parking with their indicators on.
”I’ve got, like a barricade in front of me, barricades behind me and they’re just lining up and just stopping traffic from going. It’s crazy.”
Police said earlier they were continuing to monitor groups in various locations across the motorway network.
“While there has been traffic disruption, the protests have been peaceful and there have been no arrests. There may continue to be delays for motorists as traffic congestion clears.”
At Rangiriri, protesters brandished signs reading “Hands off my mokopuna”. Videos and photos posted to social media by Waikato MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke showed a car barricade had stalled the Waikato Expressway while protesters and their signs stood on the hills alongside. It was closed for about 20 minutes.
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi led protesters on a march to Parliament. They gathered above the Terrace Tunnel on State Highway 1, holding signs with slogans such as “Honour the Treaty” and “Racism Won’t Win”.
Waititi briefly addressed the crowd, which included young demonstrator Tessa, who said she wanted to show up on the first day of Parliament and make a point that Māori were not going to be quiet – they were going to fight for their rights.
Ngarewa-Packer told the group to “hold the line”. She said her mokopuna would never be second-class citizens in their own land.
She also had a jab at NZ First MP Shane Jones, saying he had accused the party of playing the victim. “Is anyone here playing the victim?” “No” they shouted back.
In Auckland, Dave Letele, aka the “Brown Buttabean”, joined others at the BP Bombay and warned the crowd: “Do not give anyone a reason to say ‘these bloody Māori’. Keep it peaceful and keep it respectful.”
Another organiser told the crowd: “Please do not get out of your waka. If you want to haka, do it in your waka.”
Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere and former Minister for Māori Development Tau Henare joined protesters at Hobsonville.
Another protester at Bombay, Te Huia Taylor, of Papakura, said the main reason she attended was “about ensuring that Te Tiriti is upheld in the next three years”.
“There have been multiple people with the expertise required to determine what Te Tiriti means for New Zealand and the current Government is choosing to ignore that.
“And the policies ... they’ve put out has influenced a change in attitude that we’ve felt already in New Zealand.”
Warning of a ‘real economic imposition’
If this morning’s protests happened again, they would prove “a real economic imposition”, Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Bridges said.
“I am sure, at a level, the protests would have had an economic effect but just once is an inconvenience.
“The issue is if we see a lot more of this over time, a rolling maul if you will.”
Given heavy traffic already hampered productivity and efficiency businesses, further protests would exacerbate the issue.
“Hopefully, the politicians can sort things out, so protests don’t become yet another part of this mix, making Auckland an even harder place to get around and do business in,” Bridges said.
Why are they protesting?
The protest was planned in response to the Act party’s bid to redefine Treaty principles, the planned scrapping of the Māori Health Authority, Oranga Tamariki policies, and the repealing of smokefree laws.
Many in Māoridom have been wary and critical of the new Government, with calls from Whanganui iwi leaders Dame Tariana Turia and Ken Mair this month for a national gathering of Māori leadership to raise concerns.
Ngarewa-Packer said in front of Parliament this morning that the hīkoi was a message to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and his Government that they needed to listen to Māori rather than making decisions about them.
Luxon said his Government was committed to improving outcomes for Māori and he wanted iwi to understand that.
MPs were sworn in this morning, taking an oath requiring them to swear allegiance to King Charles III. Ngarewa-Packer said Te Pāti Māori MPs would say the oath because they owed it to their people to be sworn in and represent them.
”Our people put us here to be MPs and, as revolting as I find it to mihi to a Crown that was so treacherous and murderous to our people, colonisation isn’t something that should be celebrated – but we will do what we have to do for our people.”
A party spokesperson told teaonews.co.nz it was “just the start” of a series of protests over the next three years.
Party secretary Lance Norman said the protest aimed to “send a clear message to [the] Government ... that we are not happy, [a] response to the National, Act and NZ First coalition’s policies around Te Tiriti o Waitangi”, among other grievances.
The disruption of “potentially thousands of vehicles [in] convoys heading into the city centre” would “likely cause millions of dollars in lost productivity”, he said.
“We understand a lot of people will be unhappy, but we have been talking nicely to this Government, so this is the reaction.”
Norman said the party had spoken with police while “facilitating” the protests and he expected police to “make sure there is no rule-breaking”.
“In New Zealand, we have the right to peaceful protest. The key message is: We have a Treaty that says we are a partner. For the first 140 years, it did not go so well. [Over] the last 40 years we have had some good wins – now this new Government wants to take it all away.”
He said plans for a protest came from iwi leaders and Māori service providers meeting soon after the formation of the new Government. Tuesday’s protests were planned on Sunday evening.
Work from home
Police said this morning they were “highly visible” on the roads as the protests began.
“Police recognise the right to peaceful protest and will be reminding protesters about lawful behaviour on our roads. Motorists should expect delays and plan their travel accordingly. Police will be proactively issuing updates throughout the morning.”
Earlier they told motorists to try to avoid disruptions by travelling earlier or later than planned, taking public transport, or working from home.
The Automobile Association (AA) warned motorists to be extra vigilant, with the potential for pedestrians on roads, and slow-moving traffic likely to create major delays.
Martin Glynn, the AA’s policy director on motoring affairs, told the Herald people should monitor news websites and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s updates throughout the morning.
“And just be prepared, psychologically, if you have to travel at the time, for the potential for longer delays. Anyone who’s not planning on essential travel, we suggest they consider not travelling, that’s out of caution.
“It’s not that we’re saying, ‘You’re going to get caught in a two-hour traffic jam or worse,’ because that we don’t know. But if people have that flexibility, [avoiding travel] is something they should consider.”
Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport also urged people to plan and make use of the transport entities’ online journey planners.
The NX1 and NX2 Northern Express bus services, along with the WX1 Western Express, could face “significant” disruptions in particular.
PM advocates respect
Speaking yesterday afternoon on the expected disruption, the Prime Minister said everyone was entitled to the right to protest and he encouraged people taking part to be respectful and lawful.
Luxon said his Government was “deeply” committed to improving outcomes for Māori, many of which he claimed had gone backwards under the previous Government.
He said the coalition had been in Government for only a week and he wanted iwi to understand it was deeply committed to Māori.
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.