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Security worries squash Ardern’s free Waitangi BBQ

Jacinda Ardern and members of her government serve Kiwis a free barbecue breakfast at Waitangi on New Zealand's national day, February, 2021

Jacinda Ardern and members of her government serve Kiwis a free barbecue breakfast at Waitangi on New Zealand's national day, February, 2021 Photo: AAP

One of Jacinda Ardern’s much-loved Waitangi Day rituals is set to go by the wayside in 2023 as New Zealand adapts to a new security environment in an election year.

Since 2018, Ms Ardern, her family and government ministers have donned aprons and picked up tongs to cook a free barbecue for all who brave the early wake-up for a dawn service at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Paihia.

However, the endearing slice of Kiwi hospitality is off the menu next year.

The Waitangi National Trust has confirmed to Australian Associated Press the barbecue is not in next year’s schedule, amid growing concern New Zealand’s laid-back public life may be hardening.

Concerning protests from anti-vaccine and far-right individuals and groups have marred 2022, including a three-week occupation of Wellington’s parliamentary precinct in February.

At that protest, conspiracy theorists called for Ms Ardern and journalists to be executed or tried for crimes against humanity, refusing to move hundreds of cars from city streets, or de-camp until the government abandoned its COVID-19 rules.

The occupation ended in arson and violence, with police hailed with bricks and pavers as they attempted to clear parliament lawns, producing hundreds of charges.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 approach, which included tough lockdowns and vaccine mandates, has disenfranchised and radicalised some on the fringes, who still continue anti-government demonstrations, months after the removal of the measures.

Labour has already floated the need for a less inclusive election campaign in 2023.

At the last two polls in 2017 and 2020, Ms Ardern was swamped on the campaign trail by well-wishers during public events and walkabouts.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told NZ news outlet Newsroom in September that threats against MPs had become “greater and more intense”.

He recounted an experience in July in Whangarei – the closest city to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – where protesters made it impossible to attend meetings and even blockaded him at the airport.

“They were screaming and yelling at me that I was a paedophile and various other revolting things,” Robertson said.

“Those sorts of experiences are not great and (ministerial security) were there to protect me, but they can’t possibly be there to protect all politicians from any political party, so we’re all going to have to think about that.”

A government spokesman said a final decision was yet to be made on the 2023 Waitangi Day barbecue, but said security concerns were weighing heavily on their minds.

Waitangi Day, on February 6, is New Zealand’s national day, marking the signing of New Zealand’s foundational document, the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Ms Ardern has taken her cabinet ministers to Paihia for several days each year of her prime ministership, except this year when a COVID-19 wave prompted organisers into virtual commemorations.

She has pledged to travel again next year.

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