Duck in a muddy trench at NZ Parliament - original pic Kevin Stent

Mallard’s Epic Tactical Fail

When Did Parliament’s Speaker Become Tactical Commander?

As poor tactical choices go, Speaker of the House, Rt Hon Trevor Mallard’s decision to turn parliament’s lawn sprinkler system on last night rates as one of the epic ‘Fails’ of the century.

From both a democratic and tactical perspective, it was an act of the utmost poor judgement. When did an officer of parliament become the tactical commander on the ground making decisions about how to move this trespassing mob on? While Mallard is the person in charge of Parliament’s grounds, he is not the person responsible for enforcing his own decisions such as the closure of the complex. That is for parliamentary security and NZ Police to do.

It is as ridiculous as the thought of Members of Parliament assisting traffic wardens to ticket illegally parked cars that are blocking roads around the complex.

I have, in the past, been quite critical of Police in their handling of major events but, in this situation, they have played their cards well. Negotiations, arrest of selected trouble makers, no helmets and batons etc. This Commissioner definitely gets the Peelian principle of policing with the consent of the public and the force’s social licence to operate.

It’s easy to escalate violence – very hard to put it back in the bottle once out. If we learned nothing else from the Springbok tour riots, the way we as a nation handle protest is reflected in societal attitudes for decades to come. Police commanders must be tearing their hair out at Mallard’s decision. In the interests of the reputation of the force, they should publicly say so and I hope journalists OIA the advice given to Mallard, if indeed he asked for any.

Tactically, this solution would be declared ‘unworkable’ on any army course. Deploying a system you can’t protect is dumb. It was obvious what the crowd reaction would be – the sprinklers dug up and the lawn trenched to take away the runoff. Conveniently trenched, in fact, for the deluge nature had on offer for the weekend. The damage created as a result of Mallard’s fantasy turn as a master planner will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars to remedy – unnecessarily.

The greatest concern I have is that the desire and willingness of politicians to engage directly in operational and tactical matters – particularly those relating to democratic protest – is the slippery slope toward what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It is the behaviour of authoritarian governments.

All Mallard’s sprinkler decision has done is caused the protesters to dig in. Unsurprising that social media is running hashtags like #duckup. It reminds me of Dr Evil’s character in the Austin Power’s spoof series when he exclaimed “You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have? “


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