11 Nov 2015

PM's 'rapists' comment condemned

6:00 am on 11 November 2015

An outburst by the Prime Minister has sparked widespread condemnation from opponents and allies alike.

In Parliament yesterday, John Key accused the Labour Party of "backing the rapists" in response to a question about New Zealanders being held in the Australian Christmas Island detention centre.

"What the Labour Party is saying is 'to hell with the rest of New Zealanders. These people should be put on a commercial aircraft and dispatched to New Zealand'. Well, you back the rapists," he told the House.

Labour complained to the Speaker, David Carter, calling Mr Key's comments offensive, but Mr Carter refused to censure the Prime Minister.

At the end of Question Time, Labour moved a motion of no confidence against the Speaker, which failed.

A 'vicious attack'

Labour leader Andrew Little said the Prime Minister had lashed out in a "nasty" way.

Labour Party Leader, Andrew Little.

Labour leader Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"We have taken the issue to the Prime Minister and what we've received in return is a pretty vicious attack by the Prime Minister."

People detained on Christmas Island included those convicted of disqualified driving and petty crimes like shoplifting, Mr Little said.

Mr Key showed a lack of courage by not talking to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to discuss the crisis on Christmas Island and the situation for New Zealand detainees, he said.

"For a Prime Minister of his standing, you know, he's been at the job now for seven years, that is despicable."

Mr Little also defended his MP, Kelvin Davis, against accusations of sledging the Prime Minister before Question Time.

Mr Davis called Mr Key "gutless" as he walked into the House for failing to help New Zealanders detained on the island.

Mr Little said Mr Davis was fielding "pretty distressing calls" from people detained on the island and wanted to take up the issue with the Prime Minister.

Question Time 'despicable'

United Future Leader, Peter Dunne.

United Future Leader, Peter Dunne. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

United Future leader Peter Dunne said Mr Key's comments had inflamed an already tense situation.

"I don't think this was robust [debate]... This was one of the more despicable Question Times in terms of the standards of conduct and pettiness and stupidness all round, frankly."

Yesterday's question time was a "very bad look" for Parliament, he said.

But he said the vote of no confidence against the Speaker was not a "serious option".

"That was a stunt. If anyone had read their standing orders, they would have known that was never actually going to work. There is a procedure to be followed."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said Mr Key's remarks were "completely outrageous".

"I found it offensive and I can say with some confidence that all of the rest of my caucus found it offensive as well."

Adams defends PM

But Justice Minister Amy Adams said the Prime Minister made a "very valid point".

no caption

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"We need to bear in mind that the people on Christmas Island, that the Labour Party is so keen to stand up for, are very serious criminal offenders."

The rights of law-abiding New Zealand citizens, and keeping them safe, would always be the Government's paramount concern, she said.

Late last night, Ms Adams also released a statement saying she had been in touch with Australian Immigration Minster Peter Dutton.

"It was a constructive conversation with Minister Dutton making it clear that if New Zealand citizens elect to return to New Zealand then that process can generally be worked through in a matter of days or at most weeks, not months."

Mr Dutton assured her that any New Zealander wanting to return would not have to bear any of the expense involved, she said.

However, her primary focus remained on getting a supervision regime in place as soon as possible to monitor the most violent and serious offenders who were deported back to New Zealand.

Mr Dutton has also released figures on the make-up of convicted criminals being held at Christmas Island.

Of the 199 detainees, 113 have convictions, with 71 of those serious offenders.

That includes 11 for armed robbery, 27 for assault, five child sex offences, two for manslaughter and four for rape or sexual assault.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs