Top police bosses Andrew Coster and Wally Haumaha have met virtually with Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki over his plans for an anti-lockdown protest rally.
On Friday, Police Commissioner Coster and Deputy Commissioner Haumaha discussed health and safety measures with Tamaki for an upcoming protest rally expected to take place in two cities, Auckland and Christchurch.
"The three of us had a Zoom meeting and they recognise it is a part of the Bill of Rights for people to protest," Tamaki said. "We are trying to be responsible, and they said it is something they can't stop. We agreed to cooperate and we will make sure we are Covid responsible.
"Commissioner Coster asked for masks to be a condition, which I agreed to. It is a small compromise."
Following the meeting Coster wrote to Tamaki to summarise what was discussed.
Coster wrote while it was unusual for him to be involved in a discussion of that kind it reflects his concern about the level of interest in the gathering and its potential size.
"I do not wish to end up in the position that other jurisdictions have when policing protest activity, and prefer to take a preventative approach," he said.
"I note that the current health order requires that people do not leave their homes except for essential personal movement, which creates a risk to those attending this planned event. Police respects that protest is part of a free and well-functioning democracy.
"However, that must be weighed against the lawfulness and reasonableness of the protest activity. As we have indicated, gathering for a protest run other than in compliance with the law carries with it the risk of Covid transmission and may lead to enforcement action, including against yourself as an organiser," Coster said.
Coster told Tamaki he is concerned with the positioning of the protest and the particular use of the phrase "Let's get arrested".
"We would ask that you clarify your public messaging on this point, i.e. be clear that you intend to run this event safely, and that you do not intend people to act in a way that leads to their arrest."
Coster said that in continuing with the planned event, "you do risk an enforcement response by Police".
The Auckland region is currently under alert level 3, with movement restricted to going to work, shopping or getting exercise. While some business travel is allowed, residents are required to stay within household bubbles and keep close to home.
Tamaki told the Herald the protests have been organised by the Freedom and Rights Coalition.
"This is a peaceful protest to say lockdowns are damaging our livelihoods and the mental state of this country," he said.
There will be a motorcade of tractors, motorcycles, utes and classic cars, said Tamaki.
"We want everyone to wear black and white masks, there will be free hand sanitiser stations and QR scanning codes. Families will self-distance and remain in their bubbles on individual mats. Kissing, hugging and handshakes are banned - waving is allowed."
Tamaki believed the gathering wouldn't be violent, like the recent Covid protests in Australia.
"This is a peaceful family-friendly event. We have security personnel who will be moving amongst crowds to ensure all participants are behaving peacefully."
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said it was a high-risk activity in the time of a pandemic at alert level 3 in Auckland, but wearing a mask at all times will minimise some risk.
"This opposes the need for physical distancing but an event outdoors is a lower risk of transmission unless it is a still day. The real problem is going to be in Auckland, where it only takes one person who is infectious to potentially infect a lot of people. The difficulty is what happens before and after the protest like shared transport and socialising afterwards, especially indoors where most people don't wear masks inside.
"Almost by definition, this is breaking across many different bubbles. The people who are protesting in favour of their freedoms are also renowned for not wearing masks unless they absolutely have to," Baker said.
Where to get a vaccination in Auckland - without a booking
High-profile businessman and Auckland mayoral contender Leo Molloy - who is a close friend of the Tamakis - is one of the speakers.
Molloy said his speech is about why Kiwis should get vaccinated.
"I will talk about the right to make an informed decision and to trust science. I'll talk about the responsibility leaders have in every sector, political, business, religion, sport, even gangs - every sector should have strong leaders who will preach the bible about being vaccinated.
"It's a stick and carrot approach, I think there needs to be some incentivisation scheme for people who get the jab like a free burger or a $50 KFC voucher. Or you say, you will never attend another concert, another sporting event, church, or travel on a plane or on public transport ... this is a pandemic," Molloy said.
Molloy told the Herald he is planning to segregate his staff "apartheid" style when his restaurant Headquarters on the viaduct reopens in alert level 2. He said vaccinated staff will wear yellow T-shirts and work indoors directly with clients. Non-vaccinated staff will wear charcoal T-shirts and work outdoors only and kitchen staff and cleaners will wear black T-shirts.
There would be no exceptions - even for regulars like the Tamakis.
"All the non-vaccinated staff and customers will be outside on the Western side in the miserable cold with southerly winds, driving rain, it will be worse than Chernobyl," Molloy said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said in a statement: "The Ministry is constantly reviewing its response to Covid-19, based on clinical, scientific, international and national evidence to provide guidance and advice to the public.
"We know the Delta variant is highly transmissible so we recently put some additional restrictions and guidance in place to help prevent transmission in the community. For example, it is now mandatory for everyone aged over 12 years to wear a face-covering when visiting businesses or services.
"Clinical evidence also advises two-metre physical distancing in response to the Delta variant of COVID-19.
"At Alert Level 3, the only gatherings that are allowed are weddings, civil unions, viewing a tūpāpaku or deceased person, funerals and tangihanga - with a maximum of up to 10 people.
"At Alert Level 2, events with up to 100 people can go ahead in a defined indoor or outdoor space. Any protest activity must be in accordance with the restrictions around gatherings and comply with other restrictions which may apply to the venue – such as the use of face coverings and QR codes."
Police Commissioner's letter to Brian Tamaki
Following the meeting between Andrew Coster, Wally Haumaha and Brian Tamaki, the Police Commissioner wrote to Tamaki to summarise what was discussed. The full letter is below.
It was helpful to be able to connect online for a conversation about your protest planned for 3 October 2021. Whilst it is unusual for me to be involved in this kind of discussion, it reflects my concern about the level of interest in this gathering and its potential size. I do not wish to end up in the position that other jurisdictions have when policing protest activity, and prefer to take a preventative approach.
You have indicated that you intend the protest to be run lawfully, i.e. you will maintain 2 metres distancing between family / household groups, in an effort to avoid a gathering as that term is defined, and you will be operating QR scanning. In our conversation you also agreed that you will mandate mask wearing by those in attendance.
I note that the current health order requires that people do not leave their homes except for essential personal movement, which creates a risk to those attending this planned event. Police respects that protest is part of a free and well-functioning democracy. However, that must be weighed against the lawfulness and reasonableness of the protest activity. As we have indicated, gathering for a protest run other than in compliance with the law carries with it the risk of COVID transmission and may lead to enforcement action, including against yourself as an organiser.
As I noted in our discussion, I am concerned about the positioning of the protest up to date, in particular the use of the phrase, "Let's get arrested". You've indicated it's not your intention that people should be arrested but that they should be prepared to be arrested for what they believe in. We would ask that you clarify your public messaging on this point, i.e. be clear that you intend to run this event safely, and that you do not intend people to act in a way that leads to their arrest.
Your leadership in this matter will have an impact in protecting the wellbeing of the community and those who decide to attend.
My focus as Commissioner of Police is on ensuring community safety. Please note that in continuing with your planned event, you do risk an enforcement response by Police.