A public protest allows people to complain about something they think is wrong, and build support to change it. Most target politicians. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 guarantees the right to public protest.
Most protests take place in towns and cities. In Wellington, protesters often march to Parliament and are addressed by MPs.
Letters and petitions
People write to a newspaper or a politician to highlight an issue and start debate. Groups sometimes organise letter-writing campaigns.
Petitions collect signatures to ask that a grievance be considered (usually by Parliament or a local authority).
- The women’s suffrage petitions were signed by more than 30,000 people in the 1880s and 1890s.
- The ‘Save Manapōuri’ petition of 1970, signed by almost 265,000 people, opposed raising the level of Lake Manapōuri to produce hydroelectricity.
Meetings and rallies
At meetings, protest leaders make speeches, and those attending may decide on resolutions and actions.
Rallies are held outside. One of the largest was in 1951, when about 17,000 people gathered in Auckland to support waterside workers during an industrial dispute.
Sit-ins and occupations
These occur when a group occupies a place to highlight a grievance. A sit-in usually takes up to a day, but an occupation can last for weeks or even years.
- In 1955 a group of women held a sit-in on the Nelson railway to protest against government plans to close the line.
- In 1977, Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei occupied their former land at Takaparawhā / Bastion Point, Auckland, for 507 days.
- In 1978, Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard led a sit-in at the Raglan golf course asking that it be returned to its original Māori owners.
- In 2022, opponents of COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates occupied Parliament grounds in Wellington for three weeks.
Pickets, blockades and boycotts
Pickets are a line of people standing in a public space. They are common during industrial disputes, often to discourage strikebreakers from entering a workplace.
Blockades involve stopping goods or people from passing.
Boycotts suspend relationships with a business or company.
Protest marches move along streets, with participants often carrying placards and banners. In early marches, an effigy of a person was sometimes burnt. Unionists and the unemployed have often held marches.
In the 1960s and 1970s people marched against the Vietnam War and nuclear tests, and for women’s and Māori rights. The 1975 hīkoi was a Māori land march from Northland to Wellington.
Marches were common in the 1980s and early 1990s, with thousands marching against the Springbok rugby tour in 1981.
In the 2000s there were fewer marches, but the hīkoi protesting against the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, and large climate change marches in the late 2010s and early 2020s, were notable exceptions.
Destructive and violent public protests are rare in New Zealand. The 2022 occupation of Parliament grounds in protesting against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions was an exception.