22 Jul 2014

PM accused of breaking word

10:38 pm on 22 July 2014

The Prime Minister has been accused of breaking his word by refusing to apologise to the woman at the centre of the Malaysian diplomat case.

Nearly three weeks ago, John Key said he would say sorry if he knew who she was, but now says he won't.

Tania Billingsley.

Tania Billingsley. Photo: TV3 / 3rd Degree

Tania Billingsley complained to police in May this year that she had been attacked in her Wellington home by Muhammad Rizalman. The diplomat appeared in the District Court that month on charges of burglary and assault with intent to rape, but later claimed diplomatic immunity and left the country.

In a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade botch-up, the 35-year-old was allowed to leave despite Malaysia being prepared to waive his immunity.

On 3 July, when Ms Billingsley's name was not in the public domain, Mr Key was outraged by the way the case had been handled.

John Key.

Prime Minister John Key. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

"I don't know her name. Obviously it's a matter of privacy, but I think there's been plenty of public comments that would echo what I've just said," he said.

Asked whether he would apologise if he did know her name, Mr Key said: "Yes, in so much that I believe that she shouldn't have had to go through what she went through."

But on Monday, Mr Key refused to apologise to Ms Billingsley, who by then had made her name public, because he said he only made apologies if there was a serious reason for him to do so.

On Tuesday, he had another reason for not saying sorry. "Because I think the Government has apologised. Both the minister and the officials have made it quite clear they're sorry for the incident that's taken place in the way that person left the country. I think that's wholly appropriate.

"But in the end, I think what's far more important is that there is a proper inquiry - that's what the victim in this circumstance deserves and that's what she's going to get.

"What's far more important now, actually, is that the independent inquiry that's been established and will be run by (former Treasury Secretary) John Whitehead actually gets to the bottom of all of the unanswered questions there."

MFAT and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully apologised to Ms Billingsley after the case became public.

Tania Billingsley waived her name suppression in early July, saying it was important that her voice be heard. She criticised the Government's handling of her case, calling Mr McCully incompetent and accusing John Key of being dismissive.

Ms Billingsley told TV3's 3rd Degree programme in July that the Prime Minister seemed bored and annoyed at having to talk about her case. "It is what it is, kind of, that's what I was getting, and I don't feel from him any sincerity in his concern for me," she said.

Mr Key refused to comment when that criticism was put to him on Monday.

PM not a man of his word - Turei

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei on Tuesday was not happy with John Key, saying he is "not a man of his word, clearly."

"If he said he was going to apologise, then he should do so. It's unbelievable he does not think that this is a serious enough case. What is not serious enough - a sexual assault? Or the Government's complete bungling of their handling of this issue."

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Mr Key should explain why he has changed his mind about the apology. He said while there was a judicial process and investigation ahead, Mr Key should reconsider his position if the allegations against the diplomat were proven.

"A serious sexual assault is a serious matter ... and there is very little doubt that the Government mishandled this case," he said.

Rape Crisis spokesperson Andrea Black said John Key's lack of response or apology minimised the seriousness of sexual violence.

"That's a really sad reflection on one of our primary leaders in the country. It undermines someone who's seeking justice," she said.

Malaysian authorities have agreed to return Muhammad Rizalman to New Zealand, but that has been delayed by medical examinations. John Key said Malaysia's Prime Minister has reassured him that the man would be sent back.