WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – A New Zealand government minister said he was punched in the face yesterday while walking to work in an attack that’s rare in a country where politicians often mingle with the public in stores, cafes and sports arenas.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw, who is also the co-leader of the Green Party, was walking past Wellington’s Botanic Garden just before 8am when a man started talking to him before grabbing him and punching him several times, said Shaw’s Press Secretary Peter Stevens.
Stevens said two people came along to help and the man jumped in a vehicle and drove away. Shaw suffered a black eye and grazes on his wrist, Stevens said.
Police said a 47-year-old man was arrested and charged with injuring with intent. He is due to appear in court today and would face a maximum five years in prison if found guilty.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she spoke with Shaw soon after the attack and he’d told her he was doing fine. She told him to take whatever time he needed to recover and her thoughts were with him and his wife.
“When you go into politics in New Zealand you just don’t expect these things to happen, and I know it will be especially challenging for loved ones,” Ardern said in a statement.
She said she couldn’t say much more about the attack as it was the subject of a police investigation.
“We have an environment in New Zealand where politicians are accessible, and that’s something we should feel proud of,” Ardern said. “We are, after all, here to serve people. But the event (Shaw being attacked) really show we cannot take that for granted.”
New Zealand historically has had few instances of politically motivated
crimes or terrorism. Among politicians, typically only the prime minister gets round-the-clock protection from the Diplomatic Protection Service, while others might get temporary protection during election campaigns or when needed.