Canberra-based MP Andrew Leigh has warned his female colleagues are subjected to abuse "which would make a pirate blush", after he was granted a protection order over alleged threats.
The shadow assistant treasurer, who revealed the order against an individual last week, told The Canberra Times public debate is heading down the path of "people just shouting abuse", with the consequences already obvious overseas.
Mr Leigh was first elected in 2010, and said rhetoric had become increasingly laced with "vitriol and hostility" during his time in Parliament.
He also warned his female colleagues, particularly those from minority backgrounds, are at increased risk.
"They face the sort of horrific, vitriolic attacks that would make a pirate blush. What has been directed at me is relatively mild by comparison," he said.
It was the first time Mr Leigh had applied for a protection order, and he described the circumstances as "unique".
He said in-person engagement is "one of the best things" about being an MP, but he was concerned about his staff being able to "operate in a safe environment".
"I had to get this personal protection order, because I wanted to be able to continue holding street stalls in the community," he said.
"I was at Charnwood shops ... [on Friday and] had a wonderful series of conversations with people who thought Labor was terrific, people who thought [Labor was] terrible, people who just had questions.
"That's what democracy should be about."
The safety of Australian politicians was thrown into the spotlight after COVID-19 mandate protesters erected gallows outside the Victorian State Parliament in November, making open threats to kill Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
The threats were made just weeks after David Amess became the second British MP murdered in public in under a decade. Labor MP Anne Aly subsequently called for politicians to undergo a "stocktaking" of their personal security.
"I'm really scared about the risk that politics slides into an environment in which people are just shouting abuse at one another, rather than trying to change one another's minds," Mr Leigh said.
The advent of social media has led to conspiracy movements, often fixated on politicians, flourishing across international borders, and has encouraged more fractious debate.
Australian conspiracy movements, including the Convoy to Canberra protests, have also become more prominent and are tinged with vitriolic rhetoric aimed at MPs.
The Capitol Hill riot in Washington, D.C. showed the deadly consequences of political rhetoric, driven by conspiracies, going off the rails. Mr Leigh said the deterioration of democracy in Australia was "clearly" not as advanced as in the US, but warned against complacency.
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