29 Mar 2016

No extra protection wanted despite death threats

5:30 pm on 29 March 2016

Senior Cabinet minister Paula Bennett says she does not want to see MPs and ministers made less accessible, despite receiving death threats.

Paula Bennett during caucus run 1.03.16

National Party MP Paula Bennett holds the climate change and social housing portfolios, among others. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mrs Bennett, a National Party MP, said she reported threats made against her to the police about once a month. She was more concerned about how her family reacted to the threats than for her own safety, she said.

"If there is a downside to this job, and it's the only one I honestly come up with, it's how the job affects the people who love you and that's always pretty distressing.

"And when you've got your own kids pointing out things on social media - that someone should shoot me at my next public event - it's pretty distressing that your kids are having to read that sort of stuff."

She would not like to see ministers made less accessible because of fears for their safety, she said.

"I don't think it's any more people, I just think the ones that are there are getting up to a level of anger where you've got your eight years of a government, and they're choosing to display that in ways that they are.

"But I just don't want to change being a New Zealand minister that's approachable and out there and talking to people."

That was not the first time she had received death threats, Mrs Bennett said.

No place for threats - Labour

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said there was no place for those kinds of threats against any MP.

Andrew Little speaking to media after the vote.

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

"It's a right when people are concerned about what ministers and the government is doing in their name they protest, if that's what they want to do, but there is no place in our political debate and discourse for threats of violence or physical harm."

It was unfortunately the nature of social media that threats were easier to make, Mr Little said.

While nothing justified those sorts of threats, people were feeling the pinch more than they had in the past, he said

"There are a lot of people who are doing it tough, still doing it tough, some doing it tougher, for whom there is a great sense of anger they are expressing when they talk to the likes of me and no doubt my colleagues."

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei

Metiria Turei. Photo: RNZ

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said she also got abuse, but she did not think it was getting worse, and there was enough security in place to keep MPs safe.

"There are systems in place to help protect us from violent behaviour, in the main they work, there are always concerns about our staff of course because they often get more harassment and our families are subject to harassment on occasion as well.

"But we put ourselves in this public position where we have control over people's lives, we need to accept the full responsibility for that and sometimes people will be very angry with us," she said.

One of the great things about New Zealand's democracy was how accessible its politicians were and it would be a shame if that was to change, Ms Turei said.