Threats against politicians, Jacinda Ardern jump massively over past year, peaked during Parliament protest

Newshub can reveal the number of threats towards politicians involving police has jumped significantly over the past year, with a large number recorded during the Parliament protest.

Figures obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act (OIA) from police reveal a log of threats recorded against MPs over the past few years.

In 2019, the first full year the log was operated, there were 38 threats that police became involved in. This jumped to 54 in 2020, 70 in 2021 and then to 101 in 2022.

The number towards former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alone is significant.

There were 18 threats recorded against her in 2019, 32 in 2020, 50 in 2021 and then 60 in 2022. That means there were more threats against Ardern last year than what police recorded for other politicians combined.

Other than for Ardern, police wouldn't release exactly which MPs were threatened or the specific types of threats, but did say the "general nature" of the threats involved death threats, threatening or abusive emails, phone calls and social media posts.

Police said the motivation for these threats wasn't always clear, but for Ardern "COVID mandates and anti-government sentiment have been common themes".

The police response said the nature of threats against Ardern also involved incitement for others to assassinate, kill or harm, threats to arrest, and remove from power.

"Some of the threats against Jacinda Ardern included acts of violence against Parliament as a whole."

A month-by-month breakdown of threats recorded by police show the number peaked last year in February, as the Parliament protest was underway. There were 16 threats recorded overall, with nine against Ardern and seven against other MPs.

There was also a trend upwards in threats near the end of 2022. In both November and December, there were 15 threats recorded overall.

Last year, then-Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said Labour was considering how its election campaign may have to operate in a different way considering the increase in abuse. It was suggested the party may have to dump the traditional election walkabout.

That was, however, before Ardern resigned as Prime Minister. It has been speculated that the abuse she received as Prime Minister played into her decision to stand down, but she has denied that. 

New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Tuesday he's "probably a bit less" concerned about his security now he has the top job.

"I get a little bit more support with that these days."

Hipkins said Prime Ministers are generally reluctant to comment on security matters, and he wouldn't change that.

But he did note politics is becoming more polarised internationally. 

"To some extent, we have been behind the rest of the world in that regard and New Zealand is kind of catching up with the rest of the world in that area."

"That is a bit sad really because I quite liked the way we did politics previously where generally speaking we might have argued our case hard but we generally were not so competitive."  

He said he respects his opponents even if he doesn't agree with them and he enjoys a good debate.

"My message to New Zealanders is to continue to have friends who disagree with you. Because that's the way we avoid a polarised society where we do have things like the threats of violence against politicians increasing."

Police had to move in at the Parliament protest.
Police had to move in at the Parliament protest. Photo credit: Getty Images.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon said he feels safe.

"I enjoy getting out and talking to New Zealanders. It's important I follow the safety guidance when it is given. For me, it is important to keep talking to New Zealanders too."

The occupation of Parliament lasted several weeks before police moved in, leading to a violent, fiery riot where a number of officers were injured and more than 100 demonstrators were arrested. 

During the protest, demonstrators brazenly expressed their dislike of Ardern and other politicians. Many made abusive comments about the then-Prime Minister. The message 'Hang 'em High' was written across the parliamentary forecourt at the start of the occupation. 

Ardern told Newshub last year that the protest was "one of the most challenging parts of the year" and said she worried about Parliament workers' safety during the "volatile situation". 

Throughout the protest, Ardern wouldn't engage with the occupiers, describing some of their actions - like harassing members of the public - as "absolutely unacceptable" and in some cases "illegal". 

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigation is now underway into police actions during the protest. 

Newshub has asked both police and the New Zealand Defence Force for information about their actions during the protest, but that's been refused while the IPCA investigation is underway.

After a complaint was raised about that decision, the Chief Ombudsman last week wrote to Newshub saying he understood the grounds for refusal at the time and expects the information to be released with the report.

He said his investigators had met with the IPCA this month and the IPCA confirmed the review is "on track for completion by 31 March 2023".