Arrests at Auckland protest over benefit plans

ROB KIDD
Last updated 18:51 18/09/2012

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Five people, including veteran protester Sue Bradford, who chained themselves to the Ministry of Social Development's Auckland headquarters during a protest against the Government's latest welfare reforms, have been arrested.

The protesters entered the Ellerslie office building just before 2pm today and an hour later police officers entered with bolt cutters.

The protesters were calling for the Government to urgently work on ways to create jobs to help beneficiaries into work.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sarah Thompson said the protest had been in the pipeline since July and Social Development Minister Paul Bennett’s latest welfare reform announcement had pushed them into action.

“We believe that the Government’s ongoing attacks on beneficiaries are nothing less than a brutal assault on the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of children – and adults – who are dependent on the state for survival,” said Thompson.

Veteran activist Simon Oosterman was chained to a pole on top of an overhanging roof along with another person.

He was holding a banner saying "job creation not intimidation" and said the reason for the protest was because the Government was pushing poor people further into poverty.

"It's an attack on a small minority of beneficiaries to distract from what is simply a lack of jobs," he said.

He said many people had recently found themselves unemployed after decades in the workforce and he said it was not simply a case of laziness as the Government had implied.

John Darroch took photos of the protesters when they entered the building and said ministry workers were calm when they started chaining themselves to pillars.

“They didn’t see it as being particularly relevant to them, and it’s not,” he said.

Midway through the protest another man was arrested after trying to get access to the ministry building through a back door.

At 5pm, after brief negotiations with police, the final two protesters voluntarily climbed from the roof down a ladder, as police prepared the trespass notices below.  

The Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament at the start of the week.

It includes provisions allowing payments to be cut if beneficiaries fail a drug test, have an outstanding arrest warrant, or if parents who do not meet "social obligations" for getting their children into health and education programmes.

It is understood Bradford and others will appear in Auckland District Court this week.

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