WELLINGTON, New Zealand — In New Zealand, members of the public are accustomed to seeing their top government officials at the grocery store or on the street, unencumbered by security guards as is more common in other parts of the world.
The country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, even jokingly recountedto Stephen Colbert on the “The Late Show” about being approached by chatty strangers while she shopped for maternity bras.
But on Thursday morning, a government minister was attacked while walking to work alone in the capital city, leading Ms. Ardern to warn that New Zealanders’ unusual level of access to the country’s lawmakers should not be taken for granted.
“We have an environment in New Zealand where politicians are accessible, and that’s something we should feel proud of,” Ms Ardern said. “We are, after all, here to serve people. But today’s events really show we cannot take that for granted.”
Pete Huggins, a Green Party spokesman, said Mr. Shaw had told the police that his assailant knew his name, although officers have not said whether they believe the attack was planned, or what motivated it.
The episode rattled New Zealand, which Mr. Huggins described as “a very close-knit community and a very open society.”
Unlike in many countries, including the United States and Britain, the prime minister is the only lawmaker accompanied round-the-clock by security personnel; government ministers and other lawmakers are not. Residents of Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, regularly see elected officials walking or cycling the streets alone, and some politicians opt to take public transportation rather than using government vehicles.
“I would hate to see that go,” Marama Davidson, a lawmaker who leads the Green Party with Mr. Shaw, said during a news conference Thursday.
The police have arrested and charged a 47-year-old man in the attack on Mr. Shaw. The man, whom the police did not identify, will appear in the Wellington District Court on Friday.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum joined in condemning the attack. Wellington’s mayor, Justin Lester, wrote on social mediathat the assailant’s behavior had been “outrageous” and that New Zealanders were “lucky to have unparalleled access” to their elected representatives.
This is outrageous behaviour and if undertaken by a Wellingtonian, shameful. Elected representatives of all hues show courage to represent New Zealanders & we are lucky to have unparalleled access to them. This is a sad day for democracy. Arohanui James.https://t.co/EaWWLjPJVO
— Justin Lester (@justin_lester) March 13, 2019
Members of the public also expressed shock. One Twitter user branded the attack on Mr. Shaw “an assault on democracy.” Another said it was hoped that the attack was “an awful one off and not a canary in the coal mine moment” for New Zealand.
Bryce Edwards, a veteran New Zealand political commentator, said that down-to-earth qualities commanded respect from New Zealanders. “We like our politicians to be ‘one of us’ not ‘above us,’” he said.
While it was not clear whether the attack was politically motivated, some lawmakers took the opportunity to denounce what they said was a trend toward over-the-top reactions by people who disagreed with politicians.
Ms. Ardern stopped short of saying that security should be beefed up for lawmakers. The episode took place in an inner-city area of Wellington, just minutes from Ms. Ardern’s residence.
Violence against New Zealand lawmakers is rare. The last one to make global headlines in recent years was in 2016, when a then government minister, Steven Joyce, was hit in the face with a sex toy thrown by a protester, an episode that caused more mirth than fury.