29 Sep 2023

'Completely unacceptable': Labour candidate Angela Roberts 'slapped' following political debate

4:16 pm on 29 September 2023
Labour Party candidate Angela Roberts.

Labour's Angela Roberts. Photo: Facebook / Angela Roberts

A Labour candidate says she was slapped by an aggressive member of the public while at a local election debate this week.

Angela Roberts, a candidate for Taranaki-King Country, took to social media on Friday to inform her followers of an incident that happened on Tuesday.

Roberts said she was at a campaign debate at her local Rotary Club in Inglewood.

Following the debate, Roberts said she was having a discussion with a "tall man" about education policy and other things when "aggressive finger pointing started".

"Then things took a turn for the worse," she said. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her - then slapped her.

"He grabbed my shoulders and shook me in order to emphasise the point he was making. Then he slapped my cheeks with both hands.

"At this point I walked away and gathered my things and he left. Others checked that I was okay. I said that I was and left for home."

Explaining further to RNZ, she said: "We had a really lively debate, really robust. Had a cup of tea afterwards as usual, had a further chat to two or three people about other things, and then this gentleman started ... explaining politics to me, and I answered his questions... but then he grabbed my shoulders and shook me - he was quite a tall guy - and I don't remember what he said but it was something about losing the election and this is why.

"Then he slapped my cheeks with both his hands like someone putting on aftershave and said something along the lines of 'Oh well, enjoy being in opposition'. At that point I stepped away because I did not need to be manhandled and I assume he left at that point."

Roberts said she thought that would be the end of it, but after going home and thinking about, and discussing it with her family, realised it was important to take a stand and call out the man's aggression.

"Manhandling candidates on the campaign trail is completely unacceptable.

"I don't know why he felt that it was okay to grab me or to slap me; that is a question for him. Would he have done it to a man? Who knows. What I do know is that it cannot happen again."

Roberts said she expected to be challenged at debates and public meetings throughout the election campaign but such aggression was never okay.

"I don't expect everyone to agree with me or my party's policies or values. That's fine - it's a contest of ideas after all. But I do not accept that any aggression is ever okay.

"It feels like, incrementally, there is a growing acceptance of aggression in politics and our democratic processes. This must change.

"We need to ensure that New Zealand is a safe place for democracy to thrive; a safe place for those who are curious about the implications of their voting decisions, and a safe place for political candidates."

Roberts told RNZ: "I'm always up for a tough debate, you know, I'm a unionist. But that was too far. It's unacceptable and I need to remind the world of that and stand up and call it out."

As for the incremental increase in aggression, she said: "It happens all over the place and it could be someone just saying a nasty comment in a public place, or through to some of the engagement in debates and things. That's the first time I have experienced it personally. We have talked about it and planned for it.

"It doesn't matter what party you are from - I have talked to other women candidates about what's the plan? We shouldn't have to do that.

"It undermines our democracy because people don't feel safe to engage in the debate."

Roberts thanked National Party candidate Barbara Kuriger and her team for supporting her following the incident.

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins said he was very concerned about the incident. He said there seemed to be more risk than in previous elections.

"We have been very mindful of that and of candidate safety. My number one message to all of my team has been if you are concerned for your safety in any situation, don't put yourself in that situation.

"If that means not going to a meeting and being criticised for not going to that meeting because you don't feel safe going there, I will absolutely defend you doing that.

"I understand that she's made a police complaint so I don't want to get into the details of that because that would be a matter for the police. But again it is a reminder that election campaigns should be conducted with respect and with dignity. No-one is entitled to physically interfere with another person and certainly not to assault them."