COVID-19

Victorian politicians hire extra security

In recent days politicians have had their personal home addresses leaked online, as fears continue to grow the unprecedented anger and hostility levelled at them could lead to someone being seriously injured or even murdered.It follows a week of rowdy protests around Spring Street, where nooses were carried and an effigy of Daniel Andrews was thrown on to a makeshift gallows. Just under 50 of the 128 members of parliament responded to a Sunday Herald Sun survey about safety in the workplace. About half revealed they – and their electorate staff – had been on the receiving end of abuse and targeted attacks.Many others – notably Liberal MPs – declined to comment, stating that they did not believe it was appropriate to discuss security matters.One government Minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to draw attention to protesters, said: “It’s easy for people to dismiss the placard and megaphone threats as just words, and the nooses and gallows as theatre. But when that is coupled with an attempt to circulate home addresses of members of parliament, it fairly raises concerns that there is an intent to match those awful sentiments with action.”Another Minister, who also did not want to be publicly identified for fears of retribution, said they had been forced to change their travel and security arrangements in recent weeks.Many MPs have publicly stated their fears that Victoria was on the verge of experiencing events seen recently in the UK, where British MP David Amess was assassinated. “I am naturally concerned that we are more at risk than MPs were in the past,” one Liberal MP said.Leader of the Nationals Peter Walsh, who provided a statement on behalf of his colleagues, said some members had been forced to take intervention orders on the advice of police and parliamentary security.“These issues are not unique to one side of the parliament,” he said.Crossbench MPs Andy Meddick, Fiona Patten and Samantha Ratnam – who have all committed to supporting the government’s pandemic powers – have each received tens of thousands of abusive emails over the past few weeks.Mr Meddick, who recently received a used condom in the mail and had protesters storm his personal home, said often an MPs identity was used as a weapon.“For me, it’s my two transgender children. For Sam, it’s racist. For Fiona, it’s anti-sex work,” he said.“We no longer feel safe walking around the parliament. Everyone removes their passes when coming in and out of the complex, and at night this week we have had to be escorted or driven out.“We receive a lot of threats along the lines of ‘you will never walk the streets safely again’. We won’t just be considering security/protection for staff for the coming weeks – it will be long term.”Dr Ratnam said several of her Greens colleagues had also received death threats.“It has certainly made me worried about the safety of not only MPs but also of their offices and staff,” she said.“It also speaks to the broader issue of harassment in the workplace. Violent or abusive language is never okay and must be called out and countered wherever it arises.”But Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick – who has been outspoken in his opposition against vaccine mandates and the Bill – said the current “unpleasantness” could be ended by voting down the Bill. “If the pandemic legislation passes, I am afraid the division will continue because the government has effectively created a two-tier society,” he said.Fellow Liberal Democrat Tim Quilty said the protesters were made up of a “diverse mix of ordinary Victorians”.“I don’t believe for a second that the protesters on the steps – or the 50,000 plus that marched (last week) – are the far-right, white-supremacists the government is trying to paint them as,” he said.“I have no doubt there are a few loose units among them, but even when they go over the top with the rhetoric – or the props – and cross the line, 99.99 per cent are just people who have been pushed to the edge letting off some steam. I do condemn unequivocally those who make actual threats.”Independent MP Catherine Cumming said she had not felt unsafe, adding: “I have had more people cry in my arms than yell at me.”Professor of Politics at Monash University Paul Strangio said the pandemic legislation had become a “lightning rod for a tiny fringe of disaffected Victorians”. “It’s less the substance of the legislation per se – because it’s an improvement on the current arrangements – but that this group is looking for an opportunity to vent their grievances,” Professor Strangio said.“Once the legislation is passed it will be more difficult for the protesters to maintain their rage. “They will have lost the focal point for their protests. But the abuse and threats are unlikely to dissipate immediately since the legislation is a pretext for their anger. We have discovered there is a dark underbelly in our community.”

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