COVID-19: Labour MPs on high alert amid death threats, 'ongoing attacks by anti-vaxxers'

Labour MPs are on high alert after Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty was confronted by an anti-vaxxer last weekend who accused the Government of genocide. 

And McAnulty is not alone. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, MP for Remutaka, revealed that his electorate office has been "the target of repeated and ongoing attacks by anti-vaxxers". 

McAnulty, MP for Wairarapa, told reporters ahead of Labour's caucus meeting at Parliament on Tuesday that he'll be speaking to parliamentary security about how to ensure MPs are safe. 

"We're going to be talking to Parliamentary Service security today about what provisions we might be able to put in place for the safety of our members. But that's not just for our members - it's across the board," McAnulty said. 

"I think there are a few things that we could do to preserve the safety and do what we can to look after our members here but I'll have a yarn with them and see what they've got in mind. 

"Members get provisions for security systems in their primary residence. I think that should be extended to their Wellington residence as well. 

"The reality 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. All those sorts of things.

"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. Just stuff like that. 

"There's no doubt in my mind that things have escalated now so let's take it seriously."

McAnulty said he's received death threats since a video of him being confronted by an anti-vaxxer was posted online

Labour's Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty.
Labour's Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"I'm not too worried about that bloke in particular, but those that believe that rubbish that he's talking about and are then potentially willing to act on it, we need to take that seriously," he said. 

"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, whether it's just some keyboard warrior getting a bit wound up. I haven't had any prior to this weekend and I've had more than I'd like to."

Hipkins said he's had to "do some additional things that I wouldn't normally do" to keep safe.

"One of my electorate offices in particular has been the target of repeated and ongoing attacks by anti-vaxxers at the moment, and so yes, I am very aware of that," he told reporters. 

"I've always believed that New Zealand parliamentarians being as accessible as we are is something that's really special about New Zealand and I'm generally reluctant to see that change. 

"I think the actions of a small group of individuals are the problem here and it would be really sad to see the openness of our democracy being undermined by a small group of very vocal and aggressive people, because actually, the vast majority of New Zealanders interact with their members of Parliament in a way that can be passionate - I've got no problem with people being passionate - but respectful of the role."

Hipkins said he doesn't feel too unsafe. 

"For the most part no, but I'm obviously a bit more cautious at the moment because there are some people out and about. I wouldn't have gone for a walk across the forecourt on Wednesday, for example. I'm mindful of that."

Hipkins was referring to the estimated 2000 people who marched on Parliament last week to express outrage at COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Much of their anger was aimed at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who unlike her MPs has 24-hour protection from the Diplomatic Protection Service, a special branch of the police that provides personal security. 

"I do think we're seeing at the moment a period where there is a group who are unhappy with some of the decisions that have been made and there have been similar groups unhappy about prior decisions even before COVID came long," Ardern told reporters. 

"We do need to make sure we look after our MPs but in the same way I'd say that some of you [the media] have experienced some of that as well, so it's not just about us - it's about those that generally may be targeted, but it is by a very small group."

Earlier this month Ardern's press conference in Northland was cut short after a man continuously disrupted her, with claims about the vaccine not working. The following day, Ardern was forced to cancel two clinic visits in Whanganui and Hunterville due to protests.

"For me there's probably a fairly consistent set of people who are probably unhappy at the mere existence of a Prime Minister so I couldn't speak to me specifically," Ardern said.

"MPs, we do have security reviews that we can do - make sure that their homes are safe, that their families are safe, and I would say that's important at any given time, because there will always be some disgruntlement at some of the decisions that we make."