25 Mar 2023

Risk of political violence this election high – Shaw

8:59 pm on 25 March 2023

By Jo Moir of Newsroom.co.nz*

Green Party Co-Leaders speak to RNZ's Giles Dexter at the end of 2022

Green Party co-leader James Shaw, left, is warning of violence during the run-up to the election. Co-leader Marama Davidson, right, was injured Saturday while attending a protest in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

There's a very real possibility someone will be injured, or worse, during this year's election campaign, warns Greens' co-leader James Shaw.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins hasn't shied away from public walkabouts since taking over the leadership, but Green Party co-leader James Shaw says that doesn't mean the risk to politicians has decreased.

While Jacinda Ardern's schedule started to change toward the end of her time in the top job, as public events became too difficult for security to safely manage, Hipkins hasn't had the same problem.

In the past few weeks alone, he has attended the Kumeu A&P Show, Big Gay Out and the Pasifika Festival with no problems or security concerns.

In October, Shaw called for a cross-party group to discuss safety threats, which all political parties agreed to.

A meeting has yet to take place, but Shaw told Newsroom this week it was necessary, and he'd like to see the government lead it but in a non-partisan way.

"The risk hasn't gone down because we've had a change in Prime Minister," Shaw said.

Shaw spoke before Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson was injured while attending the protest against anti-transgender British speaker Posie Parker on Saturday in Auckland.

When Ardern was leader there were already conversations going on within the Labour Party about how the campaign may need to change because of the increased dangers.

Town walkabouts and shopping mall visits were heading for the chopping block as the diplomatic protection squad assessed the security risk to Ardern and other MPs.

In September Grant Robertson, Ardern's deputy at the time, told Newsroom his own security had increased because of the intense nature of threats.

Some meetings had to be moved or cancelled altogether last year because of online chatter on Facebook, and in one incident protesters blocked his entrance to an airport forcing his vehicle to have to wait on the asphalt before take-off.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's office said Hipkins was getting on with the job and going about events as scheduled, and that no changes had been made.

As for the way the campaign will be run, no final decisions have been made by Labour yet.

Hipkins' office didn't respond to questions from Newsroom about whether Labour would take part in a cross-party meeting to discuss possible threats before the election campaign.

Shaw said the threats and risks for female politicians and candidates, particularly women of colour, were still very high.

He told Newsroom the threats have been there for some time but have certainly been growing since the March 15 terror attacks in 2019 and the election of Donald Trump.

"There's a real possibility we will see some form of political violence this year and someone will be injured, or worse."

Shaw said that very real possibility was something that scared him.

In March 2019, the Climate Change Minister was attacked in the street in broad daylight on his way to Parliament.

The man, who broke Shaw's eye socket, was sentenced to prison for injuring with intent.

Earlier this month Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson told Newsroom women of colour faced greater attacks and criticism, as evidenced by the vitriol received by her and former co-leader Metiria Turei compared with others in the party.

And in September Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Newsroom she was frequently abused for her moko kauae, subjected to racial slurs, "and even had death threats directed at me and my whānau".

Neither National nor ACT are aware of any threats or dangers that would mean their respective campaigns needed to be altered but are happy to take part in a cross-party group if one is organised.

Shaw pointed to the arrival of anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, AKA Posie Parker, in New Zealand as a good reason to be preparing for things to only get worse in coming months.

"Her arrival is the kind of risk that metastasises into broader political violence. There's a sort of loose connection between all these movements, which is exacerbated by social media and bad faith actors both in and outside of New Zealand," he said.

* This story originally appeared on Newsroom.co.nz.

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