Health Minister Greg Hunt has wiped away tears as he revealed threats to his children because of his political career, and condemned anti-vaxxer attacks that forced the family of another senior Australian politician to flee their home.
Mr Hunt’s revelation came as politicians raise concerns about their safety after the stabbing murder of British MP Sir David Amess, with Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews raising the issue with the federal police.
The home address of Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner was exposed by anti-vaxxer protesters last weekend, at a demonstration against vaccination mandates. Protesters yelled it out and threatened to attack him, with the display captured in video that spread quickly online.
Mr Gunner said his family – including his infant son – fled from their home “immediately”. The incident sparked outrage in the Territory, with the NT News calling the threats “shameful”.
Mr Gunner also returned fire this week after American senator Ted Cruz criticised the NT’s vaccine mandates.
“We don’t need your lectures… if you stand against a lifesaving vaccine, then you sure as hell don’t stand with Australia,” he told Senator Cruz.
The unsavoury episode came as Australian politicians voiced concerns following the killing of Sir David. British police have since labelled his death a terror attack.
Six Coalition MPs used Tuesday’s joint party room meeting to raise safety fears. Ms Andrews told the meeting she was receiving regular briefings on MPs’ safety from the AFP commissioner.
Asked about the issue at a media conference in Parliament House on Wednesday, Mr Hunt condemned the threats against Mr Gunner, pleading for people to “relearn the value of respect”.
He followed up with an unexpected story of his own, visibly weeping as he spoke of how his own children had been threatened during his time in politics.
“I haven’t really talked about it but there was a period where the lives of my children were threatened, quite openly,” he said.
The New Daily understands the incident Mr Hunt referred to was several years ago, when he was in a different ministerial portfolio.
“That was a matter of great concern. But we have very fine federal police in this country,” he said.
“I offer my support to Michael Gunner. To those who think violence, or the threat of violence is acceptable in any way, shape or form, it is not.
“I don’t mean holding parliamentarians up on a pedestal, they’re not better than anybody but they’re not worse than anybody. They’re overwhelmingly public servants that seek to serve the nation. There will be differing views and differing approaches, but this notion of national tolerance and mutual respect is something I believe in passionately.”
Labor’s shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, has spoken previously of receiving personal threats. On Wednesday, she said that while NSW premier she once had “police in my house with their guns drawn, clearing rooms, to ensure that an intruder wasn’t there”.
“It is a part of the job unfortunately. But I am concerned, to the extent that I and others are seeing online, the type of commentary, threats, and indeed in recent months I have been the subject of specific threats from specific groups,” Senator Keneally said.
“It’s the risk of the job and I accept that. But it shouldn’t have to be.”
Senator Keneally said she wanted a “constructive” discussion with the government about how to better protect MPs, saying it would be “quite a shame” if politicians were unable to engage with the public.
She called on the government to do more to explicitly condemn threats from extremist right-wing groups, and called out “certain members of parliament” who she claimed were endorsing or encouraging such groups.
Speaking to ABC Radio Darwin on Tuesday, Mr Gunner said he was “very worried” about the health and wellbeing of his wife, ABC journalist Kristy O’Brien, and their young son.
“I made sure they left the house immediately because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
“It’s on the internet, so you just don’t know who’s watching … It obviously wasn’t a good moment over the weekend.”
Mr Gunner told Sky News the advice from police to him and his family was “don’t be at the house”.