December 8, 2023

‘Have to disrupt ordinary life’: Rail protesters grilled over blocking SH1 in Wellington, refuse to apologise

Watch: Restore Passenger Rail group member Rosemary Penwarden speaks to AM about the protest that shut down parts of State Highway 1 in Wellington.

The protest group who blocked State Highway 1 in Wellington on Monday morning causing massive traffic disruptions won’t apologise and say more protests are on the way. 

Four protesters were arrested and charged on Monday with police warning they could face up to 14 years in jail. 

The protesters were charged with endangering transport after blocking part of State Highway 1 as they sat across the southbound entrance to the Terrace Tunnel, holding a banner that read “Restore Passenger Rail”. Some demonstrators even glued their hands to the road. 

The protesters, from the Restore Passenger Rail group, said there would be more protests until the Government committed to restoring a nationwide passenger rail network.

When asked by AM co-host Ryan Bridge if the future protests will just be in Wellington, group member Rosemary Penwarden said, “People should all be listening”.  

“The entire country should be listening because they need to realise why we’re doing this,” Penwarden told Bridge. 

Restore Passenger Rail says the country is in urgent need of climate action in the wake of several significant weather events. 

“We are trying to get the Government’s attention to say, ‘Please do these simple demands that we’re requesting’,” Penwarden said.

“Please do them, because they will immediately show us that they are actually serious about this climate catastrophe we are in.”

Penwarden told AM the group won’t apologise for disrupting Kiwis’ lives as they need to get their message across because the Government isn’t listening. 

“This is totally directed at the Government and unfortunately, to get the Government’s attention, we have to disrupt ordinary life,” she told AM on Tuesday. “We do not apologise for what we’re doing because they’re not listening.”

Penwarden admitted the protests are a “dumb thing”, but added they’re forced to do them as every other protest they’ve tried hasn’t worked.

“I’ve spent more than a decade writing letters to the Government, signing petitions, actually writing petitions, going on marches, ” she said. 

“People protest in all sorts of ways. The kids around New Zealand have been going on climate marches. It’s not working.”

When pressed by Bridge about how emergency services were supposed to get through the massive line of traffic caused by the protesters, Penwarden said they leave space for ambulances. 

“I’ve got an answer for you Ryan, ring 111 and we have provisions for ambulances to get through. There is no way we are stopping ambulances,” she said.

But when pressed again about how an ambulance was supposed to get through, Penwarden stressed the protesters left room for ambulances despite footage showing demonstrators blocking the majority of the road. 

“We are taking a risk and it is very scary doing what we’re doing and we’re doing it peacefully,” she said. 

“We are looking at every possible risk. We are taking every possible safety measure that we can.”

Penwarden said she understands Kiwis are frustrated by her group’s actions but said they will not stop until the Government listens. 

“It’s really hard to do this, but we are peaceful, non-violent, and we will not stop because we need to protect the future for our grandkids and the government is not doing enough.” 

Watch the full interview with Rosemary Penwarden in the video above.

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