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Sir Russell Coutts to join Kiwi Convoy protest demonstration outside NZ Parliament

by Richard Gladwell 17 Feb 2022 00:22 PST 17 February 2022
Peter Kingston (RNZYS Commodore), Russell Coutts, Dean Barker - presentation ceremony America's Cup - March 2, 2000 - Auckland © Marda Phelps

Sir Russell Coutts has announced his intention to join the controversial, and growing Kiwi Convoy protest that has assembled in the forecourt of NZ's Parliament Buildings, in Wellington.

The Olympic Gold medalist, five-times America's Cup winner and CEO of SailGP, will join a group that has its activities screened live on two national daily Youtube channels. It has maintained a disruptive presence in New Zealand's capital for the past 10 days.

Several hundred vehicles, part of the protest, are illegally parked around Parliament's environs, creating chaos in New Zealand's capital city.

Originally labelled a bunch of extremists, and modelled on the Canadian Convoy protest, the protest movement has shifted to be one demonstrating against the use of COVID related mandates by the Labour Government, ostensibly as Omicron protection measures and other actions. But they are having many unintended consequences including the shut-down of many events and sports, as well as having serious effects on small businesses. The cancellation of the Auckland Boat Show earlier this week was a direct consequence of the measures which have decimated the hospitality, events and tourism industries, without any financial relief from the Government, other than to offer 90% of sunk and irrecoverable costs for cancelled events.

Several significant "watering holes" around the Viaduct Basin which were popular during the 2000 and 2003 America's Cup have announced they are closing permanently. Similar restrictions imposed during the 36th America's Cup meant they were on heavily reduced patronage and the Omicron mandates have triggered closure.

The mandating of vaccination for continued employment in the Armed Forces, Police, Hospitals, Schools and some other areas of public service has resulted in the termination of employment of those who do not wish to be vaccinated against COVID, at a time when these groups are on the frontline of New Zealand's COVID protection measures.

Ironically Sailing is one of the least affected sports by the mandates, with only about 50% of the sailing events cancelled, however, the mandates are accompanied plethora of associated rules and hefty financial penalties, imposed on organisers.

A SailGP regatta due to have been sailed three weeks ago, was cancelled after the NZ Government refused to allocate 160 quarantine places to the event, which was to have been sailed in Christchurch. However a sweetheart deal has been done for 2023-2026 with four SailGP events set to be sailed in the alternate venues of Auckland and Christchurch.

Writing on his Facebook page, Coutts announced his intention to travel to Wellington, next week, and set out his reasoning for joining the expanding demonstration which is proving to be a significant political problem for the Labour Government.

Sir Russell is the highest-profile New Zealander to announce his support for the demonstration, which lacks any central cause but has grown out of opposition to several controversial policies of the Labour majority government.

Late Thursday afternoon, Sir Russell wrote on his personal Facebook page:

"I'm heading to Wellington next week to join the protest. It's the first time I've ever felt compelled to join a protest.

"I'm not anti-vaccine (I'm vaccinated) but I'm definitely against forced vaccinations.

"I'm also strongly opposed to the ever increasing erosion of our human rights and the growing limitations on our freedom of choice. I believe in having the freedom to be able to question so-called "expert" opinion."

"I'm against discrimination and the "them and us" society that is being promoted by our current political leaders."

"I'm against creating different rights, laws and privileges based on Race."

"I'm also against the irrational Covid rules that are currently being mandated in New Zealand, a few examples being;

  • The 10 day quarantine that still remains for international travel.
  • The absurd rules where our kids (vaccinated and unvaccinated) can sit in the same classroom and play sport together inside the school yard, yet are prohibited from playing sport together outside the school yard.
  • The absurd rules that prohibit two young unvaccinated brothers, living in the same household, from sailing together in a sailing competition because they would be within two metres of each other while sailing their boat.
  • The rules that require one to put on a mask to walk to and from the bathroom inside a restaurant when masks have already been removed while eating and drinking.
  • The contradictory rules that allow unvaccinated people to take a domestic flight (with a negative Covid test) but prohibit a young unvaccinated kid from competing in their sport (outside school).
  • The fact that our kids are forced to wear masks at school (even when it's well known that the surgical masks most of them are wearing are highly ineffective).
  • Finally and perhaps most important, I'm against the fact that some of our mainstream media have received payment from the New Zealand government conditional on them promoting government policy, propaganda and spin.
So yes, I'll be joining the protest in Wellington.

Sir Russell has not advised whether he will be camping out on the forecourt of Parliament, as part of the tent city, or staying offsite.

Last weekend, in a misguided endeavour to dislodge the Kiwi Convoy, the Parliamentary Speaker, who controls the precincts of Parliament, ordered that the sprinklers be turned on in addition to a deluge expected within a day or two from a lingering cyclone.

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard, a long time America's Cup fan and keen supporter of Emirates Team New Zealand also ordered Barry Manilow and other "music" deemed to be irritating to the demonstrators to be played throughout the night. When that had little effect he ordered that speeches from the NZ Parliament along with pro-vaccination messages be broadcast incessantly through the night. However, his actions were regarded as being churlish by many, and appear to have the effect of crystalising support from many New Zealanders for the sentiments behind the Kiwi Convoy protest. The other New Zealand political parties have chosen not to interact directly with Kiwi Convoy, leaving the Labour Government high and dry.

Sir Russell, is the second America's Cup knight to have got under the skin of the Labour Government. For several months, Sir Ian Taylor, founder of Animation Research Ltd, developers of the graphics used in America's Cup coverage has been the public face of moves to cajole the Labour Government in its tardiness to adopt different COVID testing procedures and quarantine (MIQ) processes.

Taylor's ability to achieve cut-through, within New Zealand and internationally, proved embarrassing to the Labour Government, leading to a media exchange with the NZ Deputy Prime Minister.

However, Taylor persisted and was central to the NZ Ministry of Health obtaining in excess of 20million Rapid Antigen Test kits when it had just 4.5million in hand - largely due to requisitioning of privately ordered RAT kits. Taylor used his contacts to put Government officials directly in touch with a RAT supplier and opened the door for a greatly increased volume of test kits.

After needing to make a business trip to the USA, Taylor became involved on the periphery of a NZ Govt trial to permit home isolation for double vaccinated NZers - instead of spending 14 days in a MIQ re-purposed hotel under NZ Defence Force control. That led him into investigating alternative technologies, across several COVID related areas. Taylor was publicly critical of the lack of technology and long-winded decision processes which had been allowed to drift before the Delta variant hit New Zealand in mid-August 2021.

More recently, much to the Government's chagrin, Dunedin-based Taylor spoke out on behalf of the many businesses who had suffered the effects of Government policy, but were afraid to make public comment for fear of retribution.

Ironically Sir Russell and Sir Ian were at loggerheads just before the start of the 36th America's Cup over a patent dispute governing certain features of the graphics coverage developed by ARL. The matter was resolved by a seven-figure licence fee paid by the America's Cup host broadcaster, against Sir Ian's wishes.

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