Taxpayers will cover the cost of new locks and alarm systems for MPs who don’t feel safe in their Wellington accommodation, writes political editor Jo Moir
MPs have been increasingly under attack, both on social media and in person in recent months, as anti-establishment and anti-government sentiments have hardened over decisions around vaccination and mandates.
Labour chief whip and Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty felt the brunt of some of those views at the weekend when a member of the public aggressively disagreed with him over vaccination, and he subsequently received death threats.
The man suggested those pushing the vaccine deserved to be killed with a lethal injection, and the whole thing was videoed by a supporter and uploaded to YouTube.
“I’ve never received death threats before so it is pretty confronting, but I’d like some further advice as to how serious that is or if it’s a keyboard warrior just getting wound up,” McAnulty told media on Tuesday morning.
It came just days after all MPs agreed not to attend a protest at Parliament last week, which was centred around anti-vaccination and anti-mandate messaging.
The protest, which was attended by about 5000 people, had threatening placards and messages including threats against the Prime Minister’s life.
Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard, told Newsroom he met with the whips of both National and Labour about a month ago to discuss upgrading security protections for MPs when they’re in Wellington.
Currently, security alarms and lock systems are covered by the taxpayer for MPs’ primary residence in their electorates.
But Mallard said the increased threats meant MPs could now approach Parliamentary Services if they wanted to have similar measures added to the accommodation they used while Parliament was sitting in Wellington.
After meeting with Parliament security on Tuesday afternoon, McAnulty said all MPs would now be granted access to a security upgrade, rather than having to ask for one.
McAnulty told media on Tuesday morning that many MPs parked their marked cars outside their Wellington residences – making it obvious where they were based.
“The reality of that is that many people rent in Wellington. We don’t know how many previous tenants there have been that still have a key to that place … we often park outside our flat in Wellington with our branded car. It’s not going to take too much effort to figure out where MPs stay in the city.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that things have escalated now, so let’s take it seriously,’’ he said.
Mallard told Newsroom it was clear from social media that the number of threats against politicians were increasing.
As a result, it was unsurprising some MPs felt less safe, he said.
“There’s been a resistance over the years from MPs to having any intense security systems because we pride ourselves on our openness.
“But there’s a balancing with personal family security that has to occur,’’ Mallard said.
“The world has changed.’’
“The advantage of that is that it’s now much harder to loiter around the building than used to be the case, even just a couple of years ago.’’ – Trevor Mallard
Parliamentary Services is “constantly reviewing how our security systems work here and how we can do things better’’.
“Members of Parliament are taking more care than they used to, such as leaving through different doors,’’ Mallard said.
Parliament’s security system across the precinct has also had a serious upgrade.
“The advantage of that is that it’s now much harder to loiter around the building than used to be the case, even just a couple of years ago.’’
Mallard said security has on occasion walked MPs home when they’ve felt unsafe, which is a “logical way of handling threats’’.
Speaking to Newsroom in August, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there were a lot of unpleasant days in the job, particularly when he’s “being accosted by anti-vaxxers while spending time with my family’’.
Asked on Tuesday whether he’d had to make any changes since then, Hipkins said he didn’t want to get into the details, “but I’ve had to do some additional things that I wouldn’t normally do around that’’.
One of his electorate offices has also been the “target of repeated and ongoing attacks by anti-vaxxers’’.
As a result, Hipkins said he’s currently particularly aware of the increased threat to politicians.
But, he was also reluctant to see too much change because how accessible politicians are to the public is something “special about New Zealand’’.