MPs cautious as threats and abuse rise over war in Gaza

Office attacks and death threats have MPs checking in more frequently with federal police as community cohesion strains over the war in Gaza.

Police including plain-clothed officers are accompanying parliamentarians to events to ensure their safety.

The Australian Federal Police has briefed lawmakers in the last session of parliament earlier in June about the need for vigilance in the community.

Labor MP Josh Burns
The conflict is not a licence for people to lose their civility, Jewish Labor MP Josh Burns says. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

A number of MPs told AAP they have increased engagement with the federal police, telling them where they go for community events and about upcoming engagements.

Violent protesters have mainly levelled damage at the offices of Labor MPs, including Josh Burns who is Jewish.

He has been in constant contact with federal police, and Victoria Police are investigating the attack.

"They are certainly working with MPs to ensure necessary security supports, they're taking the security of MPs extremely seriously," he told AAP.

"The conflict isn't a licence for people to lose their civility."

One Labor senator says it's not just targeting metropolitan MPs, where a lot of the protests take place.

Emails threatening families and sexual violence were widespread and most of the hate mail is due to Gaza, the senator said.

There were 725 reports made to the AFP about "harassment, nuisance, offensive and threatening communications" against parliamentarians this financial year, to the end of May, compared to 279 in 2020/21, Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

Senator Fatima Payman
Labor senator Fatima Payman was met with abuse after calling for a stronger government stance. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Vitriolic hate mail had become worse, independent MP Sophie Scamps said, revealing she had received a death threat.

She was trying not to take the abuse personally, saying people were distressed by the war.

"What it comes down to is people feel strongly about this, and they want to be heard and of course, lives are at stake," she said.

"The AFP has been contacting me more frequently ... just putting in certain precautions, things like when I'm out in the public, they want to know where I am.

"It was something that a number of us received and ... it's sometimes alarming, but I think it's one of those things (that) happens when you're a public figure, unfortunately," she said.

Labor senator and outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights Fatima Payman was also targeted after calling on the government to take a stronger stance against Israel.

Independent MP Zoe Daniel said she'd also received threats there was "a heightened sense of awareness around office security, personal security and safety".

"It's really worrying (but) we haven't sort of changed anything we're doing," she said.

"We're just more aware of personal security office security, and Josh Burns' office is quite close to my office, we're neighbouring MPs, so that was pretty close to home."

Indepedent MPs Zoe Daniel and Zali Steggall
Independent MPs Zoe Dabiel and Zali Steggall spoke about a higher awareness of security lately. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

The war in Gaza had been particularly distressing to people in her community, Warringah MP Zali Steggall said, as she also pointed to increased warnings and interactions between the federal police and MPs.

"This conflict has definitely brought a high level of awareness to security, such as more security cameras installed, being a lot more vigilant and requirements from the AFP," she said, pointing to the need to inform the police about movements.

Her office remains on alert and there is often the expectation events may be disrupted due to protests, but it was Labor MPs who had overwhelmingly been targeted on the issue, she said.

"My community has been very respectful but there is an increased level of concern generally for public representatives as people get more and more frustrated and distressed at feeling powerless in the face of the crisis," she said.

"It moves people to more extreme action."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also became emotional when revealing his concern about an alleged threat against his family on Friday.

"This person should face the full force of the law, there's no place for extremism in Australia," he said.