Damage done to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office last October. Photo / Dean Purcell
Former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley is urging the New Zealand public to “stop attacking people and start arguing the issues” in the lead-up to this year’s general election.
Shipley said abuse aimed at politicians
was “not new” but social media had “amplified the degree of abuse.”
Her comments come after an emotional announcement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday saying she would stand down on February 7.
The end of her five-and-a-half-year tenure is marked with growing abuse and personal attacks from the public – including anti-mandate protesters and anti-vaxxers – which some say contributed to her burnout.
Shipley, who now lives in Russell, said threats and abuse aimed at politicians were “not new”.
“I’ve got a drawer of letters…in those days they were often written and conveyed in different ways.
“There’s nothing different in the fact that leaders, and often women leaders, are the focus of some types of abuse.”
Shipley, who was New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister and led the country from 1997 to 1999, said during her time she had eggs thrown at her along with verbal abuse.
“I refused to go in through the back doors of public buildings and insisted on going in the front doors.
“People were screaming ‘kill Shipley kill’, and I had to explain to my 12-year-old son that the police officers would look after me and mummy would be alright.
“Leaders do get subjected to that, it wasn’t right then and it’s not right now. What’s different now is the stories travel more quickly.”
Shipley said the challenge now, was that social media has “stepped in and amplified the degree of abuse.”
“It’s not so much does abuse occur, but people who say damaging things, it’s often followed by a chorus and that becomes a movement.
“Stop attacking people, and argue the issues. Stop focusing on individual leaders, raising them up and tearing them down.
“If people haven’t got anything good to say in a political sense on social media, if they can only speak of the person, they should shut their mouth and keep off it.”
Ardern said she had reflected on her role over the summer and “no longer have that bit extra in the tank to do the job justice”.
Shipley said she was “exhausted” when she left politics in 2002, particularly as New Zealand was in a recession and it was a “demanding economic environment in the 90s”.
Leaders who take on the responsibility still find it extremely rewarding to lead their nation and pointed out that Ardern “made it clear it was the privilege of her life to lead New Zealand.”
“If we overemphasize the abuse question, it implies women can’t do this job and that’s not true.
“New Zealand overall has progressed significantly under women leaders.
“Don’t let get this out of perspective to the point where women won’t participate in politics.
“New Zealand is much better off for having men and women working together.”
Ardern copped a myriad of abuse during her time as Prime Minister. The incidents include a sword attack on her Morningside office last October which came amid increased warnings the nation’s politicians could be at risk from attacks.
In January 2022 while visiting the Bay of Islands, the Prime Minister’s van was targeted by protesters who used their vehicles to try and block it.
Whangarei MP Emily Henderson did not want to comment on the issue, saying she’s “not thinking about that stuff”.
“I’m just thinking about Jacinda and what a remarkable person she is.
“There will be a time to reflect on the misogyny and extreme speech but it isn’t today.”
In February 2022, Henderson’s family came under fire from Covid anti-vaxxers who accused her of war crimes and treason and threatened to throw bricks through windows at her house.
In response, Henderson got a relative to pick her daughter up who was at home and reported the matter to police.
Henderson said she felt “completely safe” in her job.
“I’m a backbencher, it’s a different ballgame.”