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Christopher Luxon’s electorate office in Botany has been fielding calls for a ceasefire in Gaza (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design: Tina Tiller)
Christopher Luxon’s electorate office in Botany has been fielding calls for a ceasefire in Gaza (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsNovember 28, 2023

PM’s electorate office denies threatening callers with police action

Christopher Luxon’s electorate office in Botany has been fielding calls for a ceasefire in Gaza (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design: Tina Tiller)
Christopher Luxon’s electorate office in Botany has been fielding calls for a ceasefire in Gaza (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design: Tina Tiller)

People ringing Christopher Luxon’s electorate office to urge support for a ceasefire in Gaza say they were told their details would be reported to the police, and one was blamed for a crime. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

Two women who called the new prime minister’s electorate office say they were threatened with police action after urging National to support a ceasefire in Gaza in what they’re calling an “intimidation” tactic.

But the party has denied it, acknowledging only that some “aggressive” callers have been reported to parliamentary security, while a staff member at the Botany office said they had been left feeling intimidated by the influx of calls from the public and a recent graffiti attack.

The Spinoff spoke to a woman, who we agreed not to name, who rang Christopher Luxon’s Botany office last week to ask if she could leave a message encouraging the incoming government to back a ceasefire. 

After providing her name and number, she claimed that she was told her personal details would be “passed to police for prosecution purposes”.

Her call was on the same day that Luxon’s office had been doused in red paint by activist group Tāmaki for Palestine. The woman categorically denied having any knowledge of the graffiti attack before she called, but alleged she was blamed for the incident.

“I asked for a message to please be passed to Christopher Luxon encouraging a ceasefire, and I was told ‘so you’re one of those vandal paint throwers, this is a legal matter now and you will be investigated’ then hung up on,” the woman told The Spinoff. 

“I don’t know all the rules but it seems to me this is blatantly violating the governmental rules of access to your MP, plus the bizarreness of accusations of criminal intent for simply calling in.”

The Spinoff tried to call Luxon’s Botany office, but nobody picked up the phone. After sending an email, we were told all requests for comment were being answered by National’s media team at parliament. 

A spokesperson for the party denied the claims. “I’ve spoken to the Botany office and I’m told no callers have been referred to police, although several particularly aggressive callers were referred to parliamentary security, as staff are advised to do in those situations,” they said.

Christopher Luxon at government house
Christopher Luxon was sworn in as prime minister yesterday (Photo: Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Since the Hamas attack on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent retaliation, thousands of New Zealanders have protested, signed petitions and urged their local MPs to support a ceasefire. 

National has so far not heeded these calls, with the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee telling media earlier this month that there was no point calling for a ceasefire if both sides in the conflict weren’t willing to cooperate. 

Under the new coalition arrangement, it will be Winston Peters as foreign affairs minister leading the government response to the conflict (and he has so far stayed largely silent on the subject).

Labour leader Chris Hipkins, while he was still caretaker prime minister, announced his party was calling for a ceasefire. “It runs against Labour Party values to see the horrific scenes we are witnessing without calling for a ceasefire,” he said. “Israel and Gaza need to immediately ensure that conditions for a ceasefire be met.” In response, National accused Hipkins of “playing politics”.

It’s not just party leaders or foreign affairs spokespeople who have been dealing with calls from the public for a ceasefire. Virtually all MPs, especially those representing electorates and part of the incoming government, will have heard from constituents. On social media, people have been sharing contact information for MPs and encouraging people to reach out to them, providing suggested scripts or draft emails to be replicated.

In an email subsequently leaked on social media, new National MP Greg Fleming told a constituent that he was advocating “internally” for a ceasefire, while his colleague Chris Bishop was slapped on the wrist by Luxon after a “strongly worded” email to a member of the public in which he likened the actions of Hamas to the Holocaust. 

On Twitter, a member of the public reported a positive and “productive” meeting with their local MP, National’s Simon Watts. 

The caller to Luxon’s office told The Spinoff she would have been surprised if her details had actually been passed onto police, as there was nothing to report. She was speaking out primarily because it felt to her like a threat. 

She also denied being aggressive. “I can’t speak for other people’s tone of voice, but my plan was only ever to call and politely ask for a message to be passed on just like I have to other offices… I used the exact same approach, which was just to say ‘Hi, can I just pass this message on’. I didn’t even use any demanding language,” she told The Spinoff.

“I know people are very heated about this issue so I can understand how this situation might crop up, but certainly that was not the tone that I went in with.”

Those spoken to by The Spinoff who had contacted Luxon’s office said they had also called Labour’s Grant Robertson, who until yesterday had been acting foreign affairs minister, and reiterated their views about a ceasefire. 

A spokesperson for Robertson’s office said no emails or phone calls received by his staff had been referred to security or the police and all were “respectful”. They also said the volume of calls had been “steadily busy” and that no phone numbers were vetted.

Another woman, linked with the first caller, told The Spinoff she experienced similar treatment when contacting Luxon’s Botany electorate office about a ceasefire on the same day last week.

During her call, she had raised concerns about her friend being threatened with police action. “As soon as I had given my name and number [the staff member] said ‘I will be reporting this to my local police’ and then hung up,” the woman alleged. 

“It feels like an intimidation tactic. It felt like they didn’t want people to be calling in. They were really cold and rude on the phone as soon as they heard why I was calling.

“I know multiple people are calling at the moment to demand a ceasefire and I’m wondering how many calls they’re getting and how many people are feeling intimidated… which might prevent them from calling again in the future or calling other MPs, which is their democratic right.”

She also denied her call could have been interpreted as abusive and said she maintained a calm tone, with “no aggression, no raising my voice [and] no swearing”.

A third woman told The Spinoff that while she wasn’t warned of police action, she received an “agitated” response on calling the Botany office.

Christopher Luxon’s Botany electorate office (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

The Spinoff visited Luxon’s Botany office in person and spoke with a staff member who said she had fielded numerous calls regarding a ceasefire. However, she claimed people would not have been reported to the police and called the allegations “hearsay”.

“I don’t believe so. I doubt it, [but] it’s been non-stop, it’s been a barrage, the office was attacked the other night. You’ve got to understand, when people do things like that it impacts everybody,” the staff member said. 

“But no, we take their details, take their comments of their ceasefire concerns and pass it on as a list, that’s all we can do.”

While the callers spoken to by The Spinoff said they felt intimidated by the treatment they received on the phone, the Botany staffer said it was the other way around. “A lot of them are really het up students, crying and screaming on the phone. It’s a little ridiculous, the behaviour. It’s been not a pleasant couple of weeks,” she said. 

“It’s just our job to field phone calls from the public, but some of them have been rather abusive… and then become rather personal. There have been quite a few hang-ups, I can confirm that, because we’re not here to be abused.” Electorate office staff are employed by Parliamentary Services.

The staff member confirmed they had stopped answering most phone calls as a result of the influx of messages demanding a ceasefire.

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