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For Female New Zealand MPs, Debate Over Detainees Turns Personal

FILE - New Zealand Parliament chamber.
FILE - New Zealand Parliament chamber.

Several female lawmakers in New Zealand’s parliament had their microphones silenced and were ordered to leave the chamber this week after they stood to protest comments made during a heated debate regarding New Zealanders held at Australia’s Christmas Island detention center.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key accused the opposition Labour and Green parties of "backing rapists" after they accused Key of inaction regarding native New Zealanders with criminal records awaiting deportation after their visas, which would allow them to remain in Australia, were revoked.

During the heated debate on the detainees, Key said, “Some of the [detainees] are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers,” according to a report by the New Zealand Herald.

"These are the people that the Labour Party are saying are more important to support than New Zealanders who deserve protecting when they come back here,” Key was quoted saying on Tuesday.

WATCH: Video from New Zealand Parliament

Speaker David Carter said the comments would stand, and refused to censure the prime minister.

About three-quarters of Labour’s lawmakers walked out of parliament directly after Key’s comments Tuesday, along with several Green members, according to The Guardian.

Later, Key said he stood by his comments.


On Wednesday, Carter told lawmakers that, upon review, he should have admonished Key for his “unparliamentary” comments, local media reported.

"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 apologize for it,” Carter said, according to a Radio New Zealand report.

However, Carter said he would not force Key to apologize Wednesday because the time to do so had passed.

FILE - New Zealand Parliament Speaker David Carter.
FILE - New Zealand Parliament Speaker David Carter.

Several opposition members immediately challenged Carter.

But the session took an emotional turn Wednesday when Green party co-leader Metiria Turei spoke, telling the MPs, "As the victim of a sexual assault, I take personal offense at the prime minister's comments, and ask that you require him to withdraw and apologize."

However, Speaker Carter ruled Turei out of order.

Personal stories

What followed was a stream of female lawmakers, each attempting to explain why they, as survivors of sexual assault or abuse, found Key’s comments offensive.

Each time they began to speak, their microphones were shut off and they were ordered from the chamber, Carter ruling out of order the female lawmakers' personal stories of surviving sexual assault and sexual violence.

Several lawmakers, both male and female, walked out of the chamber in solidarity with the women, local media reported.

FILE - New Zealand Prime Minister John Key takes photo of the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London, Oct. 31, 2015. Comments made by Key caused an uproar in parliament Tuesday.
FILE - New Zealand Prime Minister John Key takes photo of the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London, Oct. 31, 2015. Comments made by Key caused an uproar in parliament Tuesday.

"We walked out because every young woman in this country — every woman needs to know — that the women parliamentarians will not put up with this,” said MP Catherine Delahunty, who also was ordered from the chamber for speaking about her assault, according to NBC News.

“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,” MP Marama Davidson told The Guardian Wednesday.

“The speaker today threw out women from the House of Representatives for standing up and saying they were victims of sexual violence. What message does that send to young women?' Labour MP Clare Curran said, according to NBC News.

Key told Radio New Zealand Wednesday that he did not feel he had gone too far with his comments Tuesday.

Review of center

Australian opposition politicians are calling for a review of the conditions at the detention center, where asylum-seekers spent two days rioting, the violence sparked by the death of an Iranian-born asylum-seeker. The demonstrations were brought under control Tuesday.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said of the nearly 200 detainees on Christmas Island, 113 had convictions, with 71 of those for serious offenses. He said four had convictions for rape or sexual assault and five had convictions for child sex offenses. There were also 11 convictions for armed robbery, 27 for assault and two for manslaughter, he said, according to Radio New Zealand.

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