Elected representatives not deserving of threats – Keep it classy New Zealand

Minister attacked by dildo thrower; Minister receives death threats; M.P.’s office attacked. Every so often we hear of a politician being attacked verbally or occasionally physically by an angry individual or one with a past. The media cover it and people comment on social media. Whilst most of the commentary is harmless, what about the times when it is not? What about the times when physical or verbal intimidation, threats to ones body or property are made? What about the times when it becomes necessary for the Minister or Member of Parliament in question to call the Police?

It is true that a Minister of the Crown might well be the deserving target of ire.  However there is a distinct difference between showing one’s ire with a person and being outright threatening, which is what Ministers of the Crown are increasingly experiencing. I have at times been very frustrated for example with Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett over her treatment of beneficiaries, of whose number she was once one. I have on occasion e-mailed her office to complain about the performance of Department of Work and Income New Zealand. I have always kept my tone civil on the understanding that people should not realistically be expected to respond to abusive correspondence, but also because as a decent person with standards, I am above that.

Where as in some respects there was a bit of humour in train when Minister Steven Joyce was attacked with a dildo thrown by a Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement protester, there is no humour in death threats. There is no humour in throwing muck, eggs or anything else likely to dirty the body or clothes of an official. In my book that is extremely poor form and the person who throws the offensive content should pay the dry cleaner costs and so forth. There are several instances of this happening. One of those incidents was when an aggrieved father threw muck at Minister Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee at the Christchurch Earthquake Memorial Service on 22 February 2016. Mr Brownlee is by no means the first though. In 2004 the then Leader of the Opposition Dr Don Brash was struck by mud thrown by a Maori sovereignty protester at the Treaty of Waitangi commemorations on Waitangi Day of that year.

And then there are the death and harm threats to individual Ministers and Members of Parliament. Again, because her major portfolio involves making social policy decisions that may adversely affect people, Ms Bennett has been the target of death threats. Understandably in cases like these she has every right to be nervous.

As a society New Zealand is exceptionally lucky to have the access that we do to our Members of Parliament, who despite perceptions among New Zealanders are among the most readily accessible in the world. As a society we need to respect the fact that in the course of their time as Ministers, Members of Parliament our politicians are going to make controversial calls. Sometimes they will make a mistake. Sometimes they will for whatever reason insist that no mistake was made. We have the right to be angry and we will be, but there is never any justification for the lower forms of behaviour that I have described here. If people cannot politely or constructively vent their frustraion with Ministers or Members of Parliament on social media, then I wonder if they are fit to be using social media at all.

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