Safety of politics changing in Australia, MP warns

By Melissa Coade

March 28, 2022

a long, outside walled concourse at parliament house, canberra
A federal Labor member of parliament confirmed in a tweet that a court-sanctioned protection order was made for him last week. (Image: Adobe/r-o-x-o-r)

A federal Labor member of parliament confirmed in a tweet that a court-sanctioned protection order was made for him last week, flagging Australia’s political climate meant a career in politics was not as safe today as it used to be. 

Dr Andrew Leigh said on Friday that the ACT Magistrates’ Court granted him a personal protection order, adding he never imagined such action would be necessary when entered politics more than 20 years ago.

“I won’t be divulging details, but people should be aware of the way the environment is changing for MPs,” the member for Fenner tweeted.

Speaking in general terms about the legal action to protect his own safety, Leigh addressed the issue publicly on Monday. Leigh told ABC radio a threat was made to his office that meant doing his job as a politician and engaging with the general public put him at risk. He expressed concern that violence against politicians was becoming more a reality for Australian representatives as it had become in the US and the UK.

“I think it is important for people to know that the environment is changing,” Leigh told 5AA Mornings.

“In Britain, there’s been two members of parliament killed over the past decade, just doing their jobs. And so we need to make sure in Australia that we carve out a safe space for political discourse, for people to disagree without being disagreeable. Because if we lose that, I think that is really a danger for democracy,” he said. 

The effect of Leigh’s court-ordered protection will mean the staff of his electoral office also have some level of confidence about their own workplace safety while manning stalls in public and engaging with the community. 

The MP said the outcome of Kate Jenkins’ parliamentary workplace report, published last year, focused public attention on the safety of parliament house – but there were many parliamentary staffers who were owed a duty of care by their employers in other environments also. 

“This sort of thing is becoming sadly more common, and one of the challenges I think is that there’s groups that are whipping each other up online and sharing tactics. They’re attacking both sides of politics,” Leigh said.

“I’ve never minded being criticised – in fact, I think that’s one marker of a healthy democracy. But it’s when you try and shut people down that then that becomes a real danger.”

The Labor politician said peers from all political parties were subject to this heightened threat. He highlighted similar experiences shared by Labor colleagues Madeline King, Kristina Keneally and Ged Kearney in more recent times but said every politician faced this security threat as they went about their daily activities. 

“I don’t mind peaceful protesters at all. They’ve got an important place in a healthy democracy,’ Leigh said.

“But it’s when that goes to harassing people and to attempting to shut things down.”

“It’s the rise of much of the extremism that we’ve seen over recent months,” he added. 

The spread of misinformation had a big role to play in the extreme or polarised political views that ordinary Australians were adopting, Leigh suggested, noting efforts to ‘prebunk’ false news was incumbent on representatives of all stripes. Economic discontent was another exacerbating factor the MP flagged as contributing to the problem. He said politicians could not ignore the role that social mobility and class challenges played when it comes to fostering extreme views.

“This is very much an issue for all of us across the political spectrum. I’ve been heartened by the support that I’ve gotten from parliamentarians on all sides since I mentioned the personal protection order on Friday, but I think there’s a good job of work to be done,” Leigh said.


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