For the second consecutive day, a group of opposition MPs has walked out of Parliamentary Question Time in protest at rulings by the speaker, David Carter, over remarks made by the Prime Minister.
In the house yesterday, John Key enraged MPs who had raised concerns about New Zealand citizens in Australian detention on Christmas Island by declaring that they “back the rapists”.
Today, before Question Time proper had even begun, more than a dozen MPs had walked, after a series of points of order which in turn followed Carter’s acknowledgement that he should have chastened the PM and asked him to apologise.
A number of MPs were either halted or expelled from the house after raising points of order along the lines of: “As a victim of sexual assault, I take personal offence at the comments of the Prime Minister and ask him to withdraw and apologise.”
Among those who were ejected or walked were Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, and MPs Jan Logie, Marama Davidson and Catherine Delahunty, as well as Labour’s Poto Williams and Clare Curran.
— Katie Bradford (@katieabradford) November 11, 2015
It can be argued that Carter had no option but to demand the MPs leave the house, as they were in breach of his instructions, upon which the order of the house depends. And yet, there is something deeply uncomfortable, to say the least, in the sight of a series of women being shut down as they stand to say they are the victims of sexual assault.
You should probably watch it yourself …
Or read the transcript:
Honourable members, yesterday, following points of order in question No. 1, I undertook to review the Hansard. I have now done so. I have, on this occasion, also watched a video replay of the proceedings.
Although the interchange between members was a robust one, there was a point at which the Prime Minister made an unparliamentary remark in saying: “you back the rapists”. I did not clearly hear the comment at the time because I was on my feet calling for order. When order was restored, I then admonished the Prime Minister sternly, telling him that when I rise to my feet, I expect him to resume his seat.
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 it and apologise for it. Though I accept that members might have been offended by the remark, no member raised an objection at the time. Approximately 4 ½ minutes later, Grant Robertson took a point of order on the remark made by the Prime Minister, claiming that those words had been repeated. There is no evidence of that remark being repeated.
My rulings then addressed more the subsequent comments by the Prime Minister, which, though very robust, were not unparliamentary. When I hear a remark I consider to be unparliamentary, I must deal with it. Yesterday I did not; I should have. However, if I do not do so, it is always open to members to test a particular remark with the Speaker, according to Speaker’s Ruling 60/4. But I do ask that members raise unparliamentary comments or remarks at the time they are made. It is difficult to deal with them when they are raised much later.
I will also take this opportunity to remind Ministers of Speakers’ Ruling 196/7 “Ministers, when replying, should address the questions and refrain from making comments that are not relevant to the question that was asked and without terms of abuse being part of the answer.” There is one other matter of yesterday’s behaviour that I wish to comment on. This debating Chamber and the select committee rooms are the proper places for robust political debate to occur. For such robust political debate to be taken outside this Chamber and to public areas of our parliamentary complex steps into an area of danger. I would hope that members would consider this carefully in the future.
James Shaw (Co-Leader, Green):
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for reflecting on that, Mr Speaker. We were hoping that you would ask the Prime Minister to rise and withdraw his remark and to apologise for it. He did say, on a number of occasions, that he felt that not just the Labour Party but Opposition MPs, including Green Party MPs, were backing rapists, and I would ask that you ask him to—
Order! I gave serious thought. First of all, I disagree that there were a number of occasions at which that comment was purported. As I said in my ruling, I have studied it very carefully. It was a comment, but it was only stated once. I cannot ask a member to withdraw subsequent to the event if it is not dealt with at the time. We had a very good example of that when, only last week, there were allegations made in this House that some people claimed to be racists and I was then asked, in hindsight, for that remark to be withdrawn. I cannot do that. That is the point I am making in my ruling. I want to deal with these matters at the time. It is important that I jump on them, but if I do not, then you as members must jump to your feet at that occasion so we can deal with it at the time. If a withdrawal and apology is demanded, then I can exercise that. [Interruption] Order! To the Leader of the Opposition, I am on my feet.
Metiria Turei (Co-Leader, Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is just to understand the chronology. As the Hansard is printed on the parliamentary website, Marama Davidson asked her oral question and the Prime Minister then responded with an answer that ended with: “If those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists, and murderers, go ahead.” Mr Robertson then stood up to take a point of order. You dealt with a number of points of order with Mr Robertson and Mr Hipkins, as is expected, and then I raised the exact point of order with you, saying that we took offence to that comment. There was no sooner opportunity to do that. We did so at the time and you refused to accept it.
Mr Speaker: I would hope I had made it more clear in my ruling. The comments to which the member then refers I do not consider to be unparliamentary. I totally agree that the earlier comments, which I quote in my ruling, are unparliamentary. The problem with the situation yesterday is it was 4½ minutes after those comments were made before any member suggested offence was taken.
James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just in reference to your ruling about what was and what was not unparliamentary. In 2003 a Speaker ruled that it was unparliamentary to allege that the Opposition were supporting gangs. That was under Speaker Hunt in 2003. So I find it odd to say that it is parliamentary language to say that the Opposition are supporting rapists and murderers but it is not parliamentary to say that they are supporting gangs. There are some other examples of unparliamentary language, such as “angry smurf”, “shag spiders”, “Barbie doll”, “bigot”, “chicken”, “monkeys”, “sewer rat”, and “gutless” and they—
Mr Speaker: Order! Come to the point of order.
James Shaw: —have all been ruled unparliamentary. I find it extraordinary that you could say that it is parliamentary to say that members of the Opposition are backing rapists and murderers.
Mr Speaker: Order! I invite the member to go back and carefully study the Hansard. The words that he has quoted are in fact Metiria Turei’s interpretation of the words as she felt they occurred. [Interruption] Order! I do not want to start by asking members to leave the Chamber. When I am on my feet I expect silence from all members. As I have ruled, when I interpret the other comments that were made, though robust I do not consider them to be unparliamentary. The first comment, the one at which offence was ultimate taken, was unparliamentary. I should have dealt with it. I did not. It should have been raised with me at that time.
Chris Hipkins (Labour, Rimutaka): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just note that question No. 4 quotes the comment that the Prime Minister made, which you have now deemed to be unparliamentary. I just want to seek some reassurance from you that as that comment has not been withdrawn and it remains part of the parliamentary proceedings and parliamentary records, the Opposition is still able to question the Prime Minister on that and in fact quote from it, because as long as it has not been withdrawn then it is part of the parliamentary proceedings.
Mr Speaker: I can give an assurance that the question is in order. Those words are now part of the parliamentary proceedings, so the question can be asked. I will be hoping for a fair amount of quiet so I can very carefully listen to the answers from the Prime Minister, but if the Prime Minister intends to attempt to repeat such words, then I will be acting accordingly.
Grant Robertson (Labour, Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope I can ask your indulgence, as the member who raised the point or order, to clarify a matter. I raised the point of order after the Prime Minister used the phrase “protect”—and there were other things, but he used the phrase “protect the rapists”. You, I take it, are drawing a distinction between using the phrase “back the rapists” and “protect the rapists”, because you could perhaps understand why both of those phrases would be, I would have thought, unparliamentary and certainly offensive. But I just want to clarify that that is the distinction you are drawing—“backing” is unparliamentary, “protecting” is not.
Mr Speaker: No. Again, the member needs to actually quote the words that were said, and I happen to have them. The Prime Minister, towards the end of the answer, says: “If those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists, or murderers, go ahead. I am not going to.”. I see nothing unparliamentary in that, as I have already stated categorically. [Interruption]. Order! I am on my feet. […]
Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr Speaker: I just want to check—[Interruption] Order! I have a point of order from Metiria Turei. I just want to check that we are not spending more time relitigating a ruling that I have already given. Fresh point of order—Metiria Turei.
Turei: As the victim of a sexual assault, I take personal offence at the Prime Minister’s comments, and ask that you require him to withdraw and apologise.
Mr Speaker: The Prime Minister, whilst I have been in the chair, has not said a word today. I cannot ask him to withdraw and apologise when he has not even made a comment today. […]
Jan Logie (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a victim of sexual assault and an advocate for survivors—[Interruption]
Mr Speaker: Order! No. This is a point of order, so from my right-hand side I will hear it in silence. I apologise to the member.
Logie: As an advocate for survivors, I would ask that the record the expunge the comment from the Prime Minister.
Mr Speaker: Again, as I have attempted to explain, that cannot be done. What happened yesterday, happened yesterday. Collectively it was not addressed well at the time. The time has passed. […]
Catherine Delahunty (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. […]
Mr Speaker: Order! […] I will hear from Catherine Delahunty on the assurance that it is a fresh point of order, and not in any way the type of points of order—
Catherine Delahunty: It is a fresh point of order; it is not a campaign, Mr Speaker. As a victim of sexual—
Mr Speaker: Order! The member will resume her seat. [Interruption] Order! No. I am moving from here. I have been assured that it has been a fresh point of order; I have just been let down by Catherine Delahunty. I will hear from the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, but I certainly hope that she is not flouting the rules.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta (Labour, Hauraki-Waikato): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a trustee of the Waikato Women’s Refuge, Te Whakaruruhau, I take personal offence—
Mr Speaker: Order! The member will resume her seat immediately. I now will require any member who takes a point of order along the same lines, to immediately leave the Chamber.
Marama Davidson (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a victim—
[Davidson is ordered from the chamber]
Clare Curran: (Labour, Dunedin South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As somebody who has experienced an attempted—
Mr Speaker: Order! [Interruption] Order! I now require the member to leave the Chamber.
[Clare Curran withdrew from the Chamber.]
Dr Megan Woods (Labour, Wigram): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take offence at the Prime Minister’s statement—
Mr Speaker: Order!
Woods: —and require that he apologise.
Mr Speaker: Then the member must also, for consistency, leave the Chamber.
[Dr Megan Woods withdrew from the Chamber]