New data has revealed that threats towards political leaders are growing in New Zealand, after an incident where the Prime Minister’s vehicle was blocked by a protester’s car in the Bay of Plenty.
Last week, protesters in Paihia hurled abuse at a vehicle carrying Jacinda Ardern. Ardern's driver had to take evasive action through a footpath after being cut off by a protester’s car.
“At no point was I worried about my safety or the safety of anyone that was with me. We are in an environment, at the moment, that does have an intensity to it,” Ardern said on Tuesday.
Data released to 1News under the Official Information Act show the number of threats towards MPs, recorded by police, reached a three-year high in one month last year.
Police received 16 complaints about threats towards politicians over a month-long period in 2021. Most of the threats were aimed at Ardern.
An ex-police officer who protected former Prime Minister Helen Clark said Covid-19 vaccinations were becoming a sticking point with a small minority.
“People who aren't okay with being vaccinated are feeling a little cornered and, of course, this sort of behaviour is going to continue,” security expert Lance Burdett said.
Threats notably spiked in September and October last year, with an average of five threats a month.
The data received by 1News recorded complaints received up until November. The search revealed there were 142 incidents between September 2018 and September 2021.
Details provided by the NZ Police showed the abuse involved threats to injure, harm and assassinate politicians. One person threatened to send a bomb to Parliament.
“[Threats are] unusual for New Zealand, but I do also believe that, with time, it will pass,” Ardern said.
She said she had been the target because of the fact she was in Government.
“I see that as just being a reflection of the fact that we are the decision-makers.”
While political leaders have often been targeted in the past, there are worries rage is rising amid the backdrop of the pandemic.
“New Zealand’s always prided itself on the Prime Minister having ready access to the community. That might be under a little more scrutiny now,” Burdett said.
Northland Police are continuing to investigate the latest incident in Paihia.