Francis Report – Bullying and Harasssment by the Public

From the Independent Review into Bullying and Harassment in Parliament:


BULLYING AND HARASSMENT BY THE PUBLIC

Threats and violence are not uncommon

According to the online survey results, 24% of respondents have experienced bullying or harassment from members of the public. This is most often the case for Members, Ministers, and the staff in their electorate or community offices.

It was common for Members to describe threats of physical violence – often via letter or social media – from constituents or members of the public, including death threats.

Six Members told me they had experienced some form of direct physical violence, during a protest in one case, in their electorate offices or at public meetings. Three of these incidents were described as having a racial element. All six reported good post incident support from parliamentary security staff and Police.

Members also showed me a variety of social media or written communications from members of the public which were threatening and abusive. Women MPs showed me sexist and racist threats that shocked me.

Although some of the threats I was shown had been escalated to the parliamentary security staff and Police, many of what were in my view very concerning communications had not. When I mentioned harmful digital communications offences, a typical response was: “I could report it, but we get so much of this stuff. I’d look weak. It’s par for the course.”

Almost all Members with whom I spoke were vigilant about their physical security. “I’m careful about constituents, especially the ones known to be mentally unwell,” said one. “I still represent them and want the best for them, but it can be frightening to deal with the obsessives.”

Most Members saw this “as a part of the job we just have to manage. We are here to serve people, after all.”

Several Members reported concerns about their staff and families’ exposure to fixated members of the public. “It’s often the same people and they’re pretty well known to authorities” said one, “but you’re always worrying if today’s the day they’ll go too far.”

There are parallels between these findings and those of a 2014 survey of Members in which 87% of the Members responding (with an overall response rate of 80%) reported harassment in one modality or another.17 This survey was the basis for consideration by Parliament’s leaders of a fixated threat assessment service.

Those that fixate on Members and other public figures have high rates of mental illness. This led to the initial development in 2006 of a Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) in the United Kingdom based on communications to the Royal family and later expanded to Parliament. The service was then implemented using a similar model in Queensland and now all states in Australia either have or are in the process of developing such services.

In New Zealand the Fixated Threat Consultative Group was established as a pilot in 2017. This had Police and mental health professionals coming together to assess referrals coming from parliamentary security staff and then considering potential interventions. This pilot service had limited capacity for communications, education and training. A full service, which will comprise Police, a mental health nurse, and a forensic psychiatrist, is planned to start on 1 July 2019.

Many staff in electorate offices and in Members’ and Ministers’ Wellington offices had experienced calls from suicidal callers. One said: “it’s harrowing…I do my best, but you never really know if you did right by them.” One Member worried that: “It’s my EA who gets these awful calls. She’s only [age]. Where does she go for care and support when all this gets too much?”

It was not uncommon for Members and staff in electorate offices to be lower key about such matters than perhaps they should be. One staff member said, “There’s just no way to deal with abusive contact from the public. It happens every single day.”
In one electorate office I asked staff if they were on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviours from the public. One staff member said to me, after a pause for reflection: “a bit…do death threats count?”

Even though it was clear in this context that staff were aware of the avenues available for support, including going to Police, I formed the impression that some staff had developed an overly hightolerance for threats.

After the Christchurch mosque shootings, I received several submissions from electorate office staff around the country who felt unsafe, even though their offices had recently been strengthened in terms of physical security. Two said that with the (then) heightened threat level, they were seeing members of the public on an appointment-only basis and: “This feels safer… maybe we should always do this”.


Full report: Independent External Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace – Final Report

While MPs and parliament has set a bad example of behaviour for a long time this part of the report is a bad reflection on New Zealand society.

I think that forums like Your NZ have a responsibility to work towards better standards of behaviour.

“It has always happened” and “others do it” are not reasons or excuses for bad behaviour, they should be reasons for needing to work towards improving behaviour in political discussions.

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  22nd May 2019

    So, what’s the take home from all of this? For me, it’s society breaking down and becoming more volatile as it becomes more liberal. Wasn’t liberalism meant to free us from the chains of repressive conservatism? And usher in a new age of enlightenment? Apparently not.
    The funny thing is people abuse me for not voting for this bs.

    Talking of abuse..does Jacinda feel safe in her work place? She has Winston down the corridor, the Maori Caucus in caucus and maybe Judith Collins to contend with soon.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  22nd May 2019

      Silly comments gain.. parliament probably was even worse in your ‘good old days’- the most arrogant, the biggest bully of all was Muldoon.
      people like Shipley, English, Key in national are prime examples of the modern age and as personalities were just light years ahead of Muldoon.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  22nd May 2019

        My comment should really have been in the MPs bullying post.

        Some of the wider society effects mentioned by Corky could be related. Im of the view the political media in a recent era exemplified by Paddy Gower and Garner portrayed politics as a blood sport in their reporting so as to win ratings points. It cant have been an accident that they have moved on from that arena, but it seems from the JLR saga ( and long before that) that some women journalists are still using their sexuality to get an advantage ( and vice versa for the politician). I would have thought that ‘rules of journalism’ would have excluded that, along with their employers code of conduct. Apparently not.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  22nd May 2019

          That’ll be the day. Women must be free to express their sexuality, but it’s not the same for men. Surely you know this. We can walk around with our boobs on show, but you men are creeps if you look and comment.

          People who don’t vote can’t credibly complain that they don’t like the status quo.

          I wonder how many death threats are people letting off steam or trying to unnerve someone ? When was the last time that anything actually happened, apart from James Shaw being punched which was a gutless act but not attempted murder.

          The jokes (sic) about using GG as a light fitting sound more like two stupid people who think themselves funny than a serious threat. GG has had terrific mileage from this, of course. I would be much more worried about it if it was one person being specific.

          Reply
  1. Francis Report – Bullying and Harasssment by the Public — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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