It is much too easy to win headlines – and then be treated leniently – for assaulting MPs

It’s rare for a politician in New Zealand to be mugged while out walking, broadcaster Barry Soper observed after Green Party co-leader James was assaulted in Wellington last week, although many had got into “skirmishes” when out doing their job.

The attack on Shaw prompted the PM to say New Zealanders should be proud of the access New Zealanders have to their politicians, whose job is to serve the people, but this assault showed they can’t take that for granted.

Soper recalled National’s Lockwood Smith once being forced to take a back door out of a university rather than face angry students as Education Minister.

But the last time a politician had been “supposedly attacked” while out walking was Keith Allen, a Minister in the Muldoon Government in 1983.

Late one night Allen was making his way home, just up the road from Parliament, and arrived with a ripped shirt and a little bloodied.

Muldoon was adamant his minister and friend had been attacked – but a check with the Beehive’s watering hole Bellamys showed that beer and a rose bush were the culprits.

That was confirmed a few nights later when a television crew was out filming the same route Allen would have taken, only to have him stagger into the shot and repeat the unsteady meander home.

Soper further noted Allen was diabetic and shouldn’t have been drinking.

But whether out walking or otherwise, our leaders aren’t as immune from assault as Soper’s report implied.

More important, a disturbing feature of the cases Point of Order dug out of the files is the leniency of prosecutors or the judges.

A malcontent can bank on winning great (but brief) notoriety by throwing something at or roughing up one of our leaders – including the prime minister – with scant prospect of the incident being taken seriously by our justice system.

Politicians – in other words – are unfairly considered fair game.

Kevin Raymond Duncan made headlines throughout the country when he threw a handful of mud at National leader Don Brash on February 5 2004 while he was talking to reporters at the entrance to Waitangi’s Te Tii Marae.

Duncan was arrested and charged with disorderly behaviour and appeared the same afternoon in the Kaikohe District Court.

Described as a self-employed developer of kohanga reo teacher aids and of Tainui’s Ngati Koroki, he was granted leave not to appear when the case was called subsequently in the Hamilton District Court.  The hearing lasted all of one minute.

The prosecutor, Sergeant Iain Simpson, told the court the charge had been withdrawn following Duncan’s completion of diversion.

The case was then closed without a conviction being entered on Duncan’s record.

In June 2009, two brothers who admitted assaulting Prime Minister John Key at Waitangi five months earlier were each sentenced to community work.

John Junior Popata, 33, a “researcher”, and his brother Wikatana, 19, described as “an interviewer”, both from the Far North hapu of Ngati Kahu, each pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting Key as he was about to enter the Te Tii Marae on Waitangi Day.

In Kaikohe District Court, Judge John McDonald rejected defence pleas to discharge the brothers without conviction and sentenced each to 100 hours community work.

The pair had pleaded not guilty at an earlier court appearance but changed their pleas to guilty at the later hearing.

In 2016 Economic Minister Steven Joyce was hit in the face by a pink dildo thrown by a solitary protester while he was addressing news media.

Nurse Josie Butler’s, campaigning against the TPPA, said  she wanted to make a point. “That’s for raping our sovereignty” she yelled as the sex toy hit him on the face.

No charges were laid but the incident was headlined around the world.

At much the same time, a man threw chocolate muck over Gerry Brownlee, reportedly because he was upset by people laughing during an earthquake memorial service.

John Andrew Howland, whose son Jayden Andrews-Howland died in the 2011 earthquake, was sentenced to 80 hours of community work for his actions .

The Greymouth 41-year-old, had pleaded guilty to the February 22 assault charge.

Judge Gary MacAskill said prominent people should not become targets “for political purposes“, but he accepted John Howland was a grieving parent.

Defence counsel Ruth Buddicom said Howland had prepared the mixture – a combination of chocolate and flour – ahead of time in case something happened at the earthquake’s five-year memorial service.

He and his partner found it too difficult to come to Christchurch, where their teenage son died. Howland felt people at the service were laughing at inappropriate moments and families were not being respected.

He then tipped the mixture over Brownlee after the service.

Critical of the decisions to prosecute Howland but not Butler, Don Brash said she should have been charged for her attack on Joyce.

“She regarded it as a joke, [but] I don’t think it is a joke throwing something at a minister…

“Had it been a brick, hopefully she would have been prosecuted, the fact it was a sex toy apparently doesn’t warrant prosecution.”

He had heard suggestions that Butler’s race and gender may have played a role in the police decision.

“The cynic says that [Butler] was not charged because she was a woman, or perhaps because she was Maori – I don’t know, that’s the cynical reaction – whereas the guy who threw the brown stuff at Gerry Brownlee was a male Pakeha.

“Whether there’s anything in that, I don’t know, but I’ve heard that comment voiced by a number of people.”

The late Jim Anderton, a former Deputy Prime Minister and Labour MP, agreed Butler should have been charged, saying the decision not to do so was “outrageous”.

“It’s not just because he’s a minister – throwing things at people is not a good idea, and it’s not legal to do it, so why don’t we exercise the law?”

A police spokesman did not provide specific comment on Butler’s case, but said ethnicity or gender had “absolutely no relevance” to decisions on whether to charge someone.

Police action was assessed on a case-by-case basis, with a pre-charge warning “the most appropriate way” of dealing with some incidents.

The decision was based on a range of factors, include the circumstances, prosecution guidelines, the person’s criminal history and their eligibility for the warning.

We have added to the list since this item was originally posted.

Dail Jones, a National MP who subsequently joined New Zealand first, was injured in a politically motivated attack in 1980. He was stabbed in the chest by an elderly constituent in his electorate office and suffered a punctured lung. The assailant, Ambrose Tindall, was obsessed about a traffic ticket totalling $15.

In 2002 MP Brian Donnelly made a statement to Whangarei police more than four days after an incident in Wellington.  He was injured when a group of men apparently tried to assault party leader Winston Peters.   Donnelly and Peters had been at the Hummingbird cafe-bar in Courtenay Place with other politicians and journalists.

Donnelly, who suffered a cut mouth and a bruised ear in the fracas, said it had been his decision not to call police immediately after the assault.

Our Google searchers have failed to ascertain what happened to the assailants in the Jones and Donnelly cases.

But politicians don’t only have to watch out for protesters with an inclination to throw things rather than engage in debate.  They should keep a wary eye on each other.

Trevor Mallard, a Cabinet Minister in 2009 (and now the Speaker) pleaded guilty to fighting in a public place. 

He pleaded not guilty to an assault charge but guilty to the lesser fighting charge and agreed to pay $500 to the Salvation Army’s Bridge drug and alcohol programme.

The victim was Maori MP Tau Henare, who was reported to have provoked Mallard to start a punch-up in a lobby off Parliament’s debating chamber by making a taunt about Mallard’s private life

UPDATE:  The original version of this story has been updated to acknowledge Keith Allen was ill at the time of the incident recalled by Soper (which Soper mentioned in his article).

Another update added the assaults on Dail Jones and Brian Donnelly.



5 thoughts on “It is much too easy to win headlines – and then be treated leniently – for assaulting MPs

  1. No politican or indeed any other person should have to tolerate an assault-the reason should not matter nor should the identity of the person being assauted surely. And yet the person who egged Fraser Anning in Australia is being held up as a hero when he should be charged with assault in my opinion. How can it be right to assault another person unless you are protecting yourself? Interesting to compare the cases you mentioned although you didn’t also mention that John Key had a broken arm at the time and one of those brothers now has a job with the government.


  2. Also if you want a complete list of assaults on MPs there was the conviction of Offensive Behaviour last year for rubbing poison on Nick Smith.


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