MPs defend each other in wake of public abuse, Simon Bridges death threats

Labour MP Willie Jackson is sending "all the aroha" to Simon Bridges after a man this week was charged with threatening to kill the National Party leader and his family. 

The accused, a Kawerau man, allegedly made the threat on Facebook. He was released on bail, NZME reports, and told to stay off social media and out of Tauranga, where Bridges is the local MP. 

Bridges is married, and has three kids. 

"All the best to Simon and the whanau right now," Jackson told The AM Show on Friday.

"Despite us disagreeing on just about everything, this is a democracy and he's always entitled to his view. I got a bit of a shock when I heard some of the threats to him and the whanau last night. So... all the best to him, all the aroha to him and the wife and the kids at this time."

The threat came the same week Bridges made a wildly unpopular Facebook post, which attracted tens of thousands of comments - most of them negative. 

Also earlier this week, a now-deleted Facebook post by controversial Destiny Church founder Brian Tamaki attracted disturbing comments calling for the assassination of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

"That's something that does come with the job and I have not allowed myself to be distracted by anything throughout this period, including statements made on social media," Ardern said on Wednesday.

They're not the only MPs who have attracted hateful comments lately. Deborah Russell, a Labour MP who represents the west Auckland electorate of New Lynn, sparked fury earlier this week with comments she made about the resilience of small businesses and their chances of making it through the pandemic lockdown. 

"We are seeing a number of small businesses are really struggling after only a few weeks in a pretty bad situation, which must speak to the strength of those small businesses going into this lockdown," Dr Russell told the COVID-19 Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday. "It worries me that perhaps people went into small business without really understanding how you might build up a business or capitalise in the first place so that you have the ongoing strength to survive a setback." 

In addition to criticism from both Opposition and fellow Labour MPs, Dr Russell has revealed she too has received threatening and hateful messages from the public.

NZME political journalist Jason Walls took to Twitter on Thursday to share some of the "abusive emails I get on a daily basis", including one email which simply read "get cancer and die". Dr Russell told him she knows "exactly how you feel".

"It's absolutely ghastly. I'm really sorry that you've been subject to it too."

Asked if she also gets emails like this, Dr Russell simply replied: "Yes." 

National MP Judith Collins, appearing on The AM Show with Willie Jackson, said she personally likes Dr Russell, having worked with her in Parliament's Finance Expenditure Committee, but criticised the Labour MP's comments as "tone-deaf". 

"Deborah showed she's never been in small business. I spent years in small business - I know what it's like, and I just think, what a ridiculous thing to say."

Jackson defended Dr Russell, saying "she didn't mean what she said" and it was bad "timing" for her to question whether small businesses had done enough to survive the pandemic lockdown.

When approached by Newshub earlier this week Dr Russell didn't directly apologise, and instead sought to explain what she meant. 

"I'm really concerned about small businesses. People work hard to get them up and running, and they are an incredibly important part of our communities.

"My questions to ministers in the select committee yesterday were about understanding what is being done to help small businesses survive, and what we can do to help them to become more resilient in the difficult times ahead."

New Zealand drops to level 3 next week, allowing some businesses to resume operations under limited circumstances. The number of new COVID-19 cases reported each day has been trending downwards over the last few weeks, raising hopes the disease could be eliminated from our shores.