10 March 2021

SUBJECTS: Incident at Rockingham electorate office; safety of all electorate office staff. 

NADIO MITSOPOLOUS, HOST: Now as I mentioned, Madeleine King, the Labor Member for Brand, her office was also caught up in this. She wasn't there at the time but her staff were evacuated. Madeleine King joins me now. Good morning to you.


MITSOPOLOUS: I'm well thank you, Madeleine. You weren't at your office yesterday, but can you tell us what you've been told about what happened?

KING: Yes, I wasn't there but what happened is we received a letter actually on Monday, but it wasn't opened until Tuesday when one of my staff found the foil-wrapped package, and shortly thereafter I think the same kind of thing turned up at Mark McGowan's office. So it sort of heightened our concern about what was in it and my staff called the police. I think what's important to know, and I think you alluded to it in your intro a few minutes ago, is we get lots of letters and lots of emails and lots of phone calls all the time and that's the job of an electoral office, to communicate with the electorate. But this is not the first time there's been this kind of threat to my office and I know I'm not the only federal MP or state MP that’s had to endure this and more importantly, their staff have to endure it. The staff are at the frontline of this engagement with constituents on a day-to-day basis because they really run the office. So it's a sad indictment, I think, on society that people want to threaten elected representatives. The people that work for me, half of them grew up in Rockingham and each and every one of them serves the people of Brand each and every day. And the same goes for people in Mark McGowan’s office serving the people of Rockingham. So to have a threat like this, and the other ones we've had, is quite depressing and demoralising because you can hardly believe that people want to hurt you. 

MITSOPOLOUS: Yeah, we are aware that a man is being questioned by police, so we need to be a little bit careful about what we say. But obviously there was something in that letter, I don't know how much you feel comfortable revealing, but it was a threatening letter, enough for your staff to call the police?

KING: My understanding, and I have not read it yet, is that it was a rambling and an unhinged letter. Again, we get a lot of these. Some of them we put in a certain pile and we accept that a lot of people contacting us are not in the best mental space themselves. We don't want to make this position any worse. But my primary concern and responsibility, of course, is to my staff in my office. So when it does reach a certain point, we have to take action,

MITSOPOLOUS: Of course. And the package was in that letter?

KING: I believe so, in an envelope.

MITSOPOLOUS: Did your staff immediately called police?

KING: Not when they immediately got the envelope because it wasn't opened until the next day. But once it was opened, I think it was read. There wasn't an immediate call to police because we get this kind of thing all the time. But once we heard that something happened at Mark’s office, we realised this is actually something different, like it's a pattern of behaviour that one individual is sending dangerous things to both our offices. And we called the police immediately after that.

MITSOPOLOUS: Madeleine King is my guest this morning. She is the Federal MP for Brand. How shaken up were your staff?

KING: Well, quite shaken up. We’ve had police in our offices trying to move people on for trespass that won't leave, and we deal with the police quite a lot, the Australian Federal Police. But this is the first time we've had Forensics officers going through the office. And, you know, my staff had to leave the office yet couldn't leave the premises until about after 10 o'clock last night. So that in itself is quite something to endure when you don't really know what's going on, it's in the hands of the police, and everyone's safe but it’s still kind of uncomfortable. So it's fair to say they were shaken up. I’ve closed the office today, and I think the police might be in there, I'm not quite sure of that, and to take what break they need to deal with what they faced yesterday. 

MITSOPOLOUS: Madeleine King is the Federal Labor MP for Brand. I would be interested to hear it, I'm getting a few texts about this from people who have worked for Members of Parliament before because there are, as you're hearing there, risks involved and you do get a lot of correspondence from a lot of people and as Madeleine said sometimes these are people that can be unhinged, that might be at the end of their tether, and some are at breaking point. And there are risks that can be, not always, but can be involved with that. And I just wonder because it sounds like Madeleine that you feel quite strongly about this. And what are the risks, I know you've touched on this already, that your staff face, because you do get people that come at a time when they can be at a breaking point.

KING: The risks are real and in my experience people want to help other people achieve what they need to achieve, deal with the problem they're facing, whether it be some interaction with bureaucracy or a misunderstanding, whatever is weighing on their mind. And so everyone does their very best and then, as you say, people can hit a turning point in their mind where everyone's against them, including the people trying to help them, which is often my electorate office. So we have a secure. reception area and there's an ability to call the police very quickly, and they’re usually there very quickly as well. But to be honest, no one wants to use that unless you really have to because it can make it worse for the person that's really having a terrible time  But now, I've got to say, I'm more on the side of ‘Look, as soon as it gets dicey, get out of there, shut the door, leave the office by the separate exit and call the police’. In the context of the inquiries that are going on within the Federal Parliament and the safety of staff, it's something I’ve raised, we really need to look at the safety of electoral office staff right around the country. There’s a lot of them, all parties and independent Members of Parliament have a number of staff. They are dotted around the country and I don't think they necessarily ever go to the Australian Parliament House in Canberra, but they still are at the real coalface of this issue of dealing with constituents and strangers that threaten them or threaten the MP. In fact, what happens is people threaten the Member of Parliament or the Senator but we're often not there or we're doing something else or we’re whisked away, or AFP helps us out. But the staff are left to deal with it. And I think that's a real problem. We need to look into better ways to make sure we have excellent advice, excellent responses and a bit of training to help us all deal with difficult people.

MITSOPOLOUS: That's interesting, so you don't get that, your staff don't get that training at the moment?

KING: No they don’t. We talk about it a lot and to be honest it's a mix of experience in my staff, where younger staff members learn from older, more experienced staff members on exactly this thing. But you couldn't say there is any formal training.

MITSOPOLOUS: I think there needs to be. Madeleine King, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time. 

KING: Thanks very much, Nadia. Best wishes.