'Urewera four' members join Budget protests
JOHN HARTEVELT AND CHARLES ANDERSON
Two members of the 'Urewera Four' have been involved in a protest against the government's Budget just a day after a sentencing hearing.
Emily Bailey and Urs Signer were among about 100 protesters outside the five-star Langham Hotel on Symonds St, in the central city, where Prime Minister John Key is speaking at a business forum hosted by the Trans-Tasman Business Council.
Their co-accused Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara were yesterday handed jail terms on firearms charges, but Bailey and Signer had their sentences adjourned. Home detention was indicated as a likely sentence.
Bailey said she was attending the protest because "you have to", but did not want to comment further.
Signer said he was there to "support the kaupapa".
Protest organiser Sue Bradford, of Auckland Action Against Poverty, was leading chants of "they say cut back we say fight back" and "tax the rich".
Protesters have attempted to stop businessmen from getting through into the hotel - forcing them to shove past while yelling "shame" and "scumbags".
A group of about 30 police were present.
Some protesters were alleging police brutality after a woman was left with a bleeding lip. One protester was arrested and put in a paddy wagon.
Today's action followed on from student protests in Auckland and Wellington yesterday.
Earlier today, a female protester was knocked to the ground after a scuffle broke out between protesters and security guards during a National Party breakfast meeting in Auckland.
Bradford said about 30 people protested at the conference, waving banners and waiting for Key to arrive. The group chanted loudly and shouted abuse at MPs as they arrived at the meeting.
Police offers attended the scene.
"We are very keen to let Key and the Government know that we don't accept the lack of action on unemployment and their draconian reforms," Bradford said.
She said the female protester was knocked to the ground after she tried to enter the conference centre. Bradford said police tried to drag her away "but they did not succeed."
Meanwhile Finance Minister Bill English thas taunted students this morning, saying "they need some Greeks to show them how to do it".
Students yesterday blocked Symonds St in protest at the Budget, which included measures tightening eligibility to student allowances and increasing the rate of compulsory student loan repayments from 10 to 12 per cent.
English this morning told a business audience at the ANZ post-Budget breakfast in Wellington that most people thought students "got a pretty fair go" and they "should count themselves lucky that they've still got interest free loans".
"Yes, there's a protest movement out there but who's really listening to them?" English said, in response to a question from the audience.
"They get on TV and they can make a bit of a racket... dragging a few rubbish bins around, they need some Greeks to show them how to do it," he said.
"It gets reported, mainly because it blocked the traffic, [but] who's listening? Most people actually think the students got a pretty fair go and they should count themselves lucky that they've still got interest free loans and get on with it because, you know, get your training finished and get a job and start contributing."
NZUSA president Pete Hodkinson said students felt "targeted" by the Budget.
"What is not fair and reasonable, and what this government doesn't want to accept is that the loan repayment threshold kicks in below the poverty line for our graduates who shouldn't be forced into paying for the 'private benefit of education', before that benefit is realised," Hodkinson said.
There were "some nice touches" in Budget, including a boost to science and research funding but that was at the expense of a "devastating blow" to the accessibility of tertiary education.
"Institutions will be glad to see at least a degree of investment, [but] students are furious that they've been handed the bill at a time when knowledge and intelligence are key to developing the nation's future," Hodkinson said.
English insisted he was "optimistic" about making changes across the economy, including more oil and gas exploration.
"I wouldn't let a few worry warts in the public media worry you about it. People are mature enough to make up their own mind," English said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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