12 Nov 2015

Second walk-out over PM's comments

12:02 am on 12 November 2015

Several MPs have staged a second dramatic walk-out in Parliament, some of them saying that as victims of sexual abuse they want an apology from Prime Minister John Key over his "rapist" comments.

Green MP Marama Davidson in foreground.

Green MP Marama Davidson, in foreground, with several of the other MPs that left the Chamber. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

The furore this week has been prompted by acrimonious debate over the detention of New Zealanders by Australia in the detention centre on Christmas Island.

John key on the bridge at Parliament.

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

In Parliament yesterday, Mr Key deflected opposition accusations the government had been weak in its dealings with Australia by accusing Labour of "backing the rapists".

Labour complained to Speaker of the House David Carter, calling Mr Key's comments offensive, but Mr Carter refused to censure him and a large number of Labour and Green MPs staged a mass walk-out.

Today, several Labour and Green MPs left the Chamber before question time had even started in protest against the Prime Minister's refusal to apologise for his comments.

At the start of question time, Mr Carter said he had been wrong not to admonish Mr Key for what he now acknowledged were "unparliamentary" comments.

"I did not clearly hear the comment at the time because I was on my feet, calling for order...

"Had I heard the remark properly or had it been drawn to my attention at the time I would have ruled it to be unparliamentary and required the Prime Minister to withdraw and apologise for it."

That sparked several challenges from the opposition benches, led by Greens co-leader Metiria Turei who told Parliament that - as a victim of sexual abuse - she was deeply offended and wanted Mr Key to apologise.

Mr Key remained seated and was unwilling to apologise, and later told the House he stood by his comments.

Mrs Turei's statement was followed by those of other MPs including the Greens' Jan Logie and Marama Davidson, and Labour's Poto Williams.

The Speaker of the House warned he would require "any member who takes a point of order along the same lines to immediately leave the Chamber".

MPs from the Labour and Greens parties walked out of Parliament in protest against the PM refusing to apologise for "rapist" comments.

A second day of empty seats during debate in Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Green MP Marama Davidson ignored that warning and starting making her point of order before the Speaker ordered her to leave.

Labour MPs Claire Curran and Megan Woods tried to make similar points of order and were also told to leave.

A large group of MPs - including Ms Williams and Labour MP Louisa Wall, and most of the Green Party caucus - voluntarily walked out.

Afterwards, Ms Logie told reporters she had taken offence to the Prime Minister's comments and refusal to apologise.

"Because I've experienced a sexual assault, I've worked with a huge number of people in this country who have experienced it and it's an epidemic, and for the Prime Minister to trivialise that issue just - it deeply offends me.

"And it was not an easy decision to make this personal but the fact that this is personal for so many thousands of New Zealanders and there is still shame in speaking out, I felt compelled to actually bring that to the Prime Minister's attention."

'Women parliamentarians will not put up with this'

Green MP Catherine Delahunty said the group walked out on behalf of women throughout the country.

"We've walked out because every woman in this country needs to know that women parliamentarians will not put up with this.

"We will not stand by and allow this to be bandied around Parliament - this kind of abuse of people and way of approaching rape is simply unacceptable, and the Prime Minister has to be held to account."

Today's walk-out received support from Wellington Rape Crisis, which said the female MPs who raised their own personal experiences publicly in the Chamber were incredibly brave.

Spokesperson Eleanor Butterworth said the Prime Minister's comments were not helpful.

She said it was not only harmful for survivors to have rape used as a political football, but also for the families of people who have been sexually abused.

The events in Parliament today prompted an immediate reaction on Twitter, with some admonishing both the Prime Minister and the Speaker.

Back in the House, Mrs Turei was questioning the Prime Minister further about his comments.

'Does the Prime Minister think that in light of his own comments where he has joked about rapists and child molesters, where he has backed alleged rapists of young women, that it is now time for the Prime Minister to show some leadership on the issue - the serious issue of sexual violence in New Zealand and apologise for his comments from yesterday?"

Mr Key replied he did like to show leadership on that issue.

"But I am not responsible for other people that may advocate for people who commit crimes, not the victims of crimes."

Serious offending versus 'lower end of the scale'

There was also further debate about New Zealanders being detained in Australia.

Mr Key said he would like to share information about the offences committed by the New Zealanders being held on Christmas Island, which had been given to the office of Justice Minister Amy Adams by Australian officials.

"Unlikely for privacy questions she'll be able to release that but I can give you a flavour of the types of people.

"Some of the offences I don't even think the House would like me to read out but others include, for instance, indecent treatment or dealings with a child under 16, the murder of an individual, manslaughter of an individual, armed robbery with actual violence, aggregated assault with weapons..."

Labour leader Andrew Little put it to Mr Key that most of the detainees had relatively minor convictions.

"Does he accept that - for the majority of New Zealand-born detainees - their offending is at the lower end of the scale, their best chance at rehabilitation is to stay close to their families, the community they know, which is in Australia?"

Meanwhile, Ms Adams said a draft bill introducing a monitoring regime for returning offenders had been given to other parties and she hoped to introduce it to Parliament next week.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs