We have to seriously question the ability of anyone to govern a country when they resort to flippant offhand insults as a means by which to not respond in any meaningful way to critical issues. There seems to be two key approaches that PM John Key takes to avoiding important social justice issues (i) He Lies and (ii) He demeans those who challenge his position. In the case of Christmas Island, John Key has done both. The New Zealand herald described the interchange as follows:
The heated debate on New Zealanders detained on Christmas Island continued inside the House.
Under questioning by Labour leader Andrew Little, Mr Key went on a furious offensive.
In an angry attack, he said: “Some of the [detainees] are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers.
“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.
“Mr Davis, if you want to put yourself on the side of sex offenders, go ahead my son, but we’ll defend New Zealanders.” (NZH November 10, http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11543038)
What exactly happens between the Prime Ministers ears at the moment when he launches into such tirades is unclear. What is clear is that he is willing to use any form of distasteful and demeaning comment to silence any challenge to his inaction regarding the detention of our people in Christmas Island. The fervour and speed at which John Key referred to Labour MP Kelvin Davis as being on “the side of sex offenders” highlights a serious lack of judgement. I have myself questioned analysis by Kelvin Davis in regards to the impact of colonisation in the area of Family Violence and Sexual Violence. However, I have found him to remain committed to making a difference and indeed his work with leading Maori working in the field of Family and Sexual violence prevention, such as Russell Smith, has shown that he is willing to listen and learn from those working to make a positive change. The abuse thrown at him by the Prime Minister was insulting and uninformed. As too, were the actions of the Speaker of the House, David Carter.
TV3 reported that events in Parliament when a group of women MPs stood to reveal they are victims and survivors of sexual violence. Their stand was to raise the issue of the impact and danger of the statements by John Key . As many have reported and commented on, it was a courageous stand to take. Seven women across a number of parties stood publicly to highlight that such statements used as a tool of patriarchal silencing should not be tolerated.
Today, seven women stood in Parliament to reveal they are victims of sexual violence. Some of them were saying it for the first time.
They stood because Prime Minister John Key had accused them of “backing the rapists” for voicing concerns about the dozens of New Zealanders locked in a detention facility on Christmas Island, facing deportation from Australia for having served a year or more in jail.
In a better world, I’d dream of their actions encouraging a debate, or even prompting the Prime Minister to apologise for glibly using a deeply painful issue to score cheap political points.
It was a chance for our country’s elected representatives to be role models.
Instead the MPs had their mics cut off. They were reprimanded by speaker David Carter. Some were ejected from Parliament. Those that weren’t walked out.
Today Morning Report highlighted that John Key refuses to give any specific details about why people are being held on Christmas Island and in fact his statements are at least flawed and at most more likely to be another series of untruths. In short the Prime Minister lied in order to stop meaningful engagement about the conditions on Christmas Island and then today attempted to minimise his appalling behaviour by stating to Radio New Zealand:
“I am not claiming they’re all bad to the core I am just simply saying there are two sides to the story” (John Key November 12, 2015).
As the challenges to the Prime Ministers statements were voiced by women in Parliament the Speaker evicted new sitting Green Party member Marama Davidson even before she completed her statement to the house. The eviction of Marama Davidson and Poto Williams was reported internationally as follows:
On Wednesday, female members joined together to directly protest Key’s remarks, taking turns sharing their stories and requesting an apology from the prime minister.
It started with Metiria Turei, the co-leader of the Green party.
“As a victim of sexual assault, I take personal offense to the prime minister’s comments and ask that you require him to withdraw and apologize,” she said.
House Speaker David Carter told her that because the prime minister had not spoken Wednesday, he could not ask him to address Turei’s request.
Jan Logie of the Green Party spoke next, asking “as a victim of sexual assault and as an advocate for survivors” that Key’s words be expunged from the record.
Carter cut her off. “What happened yesterday happened yesterday. Yes, collectively it wasn’t addressed well at the time, but time has passed.”
More MPs followed, including Labour’s Poto Williams and Green’s Catherine Delahunty, whose microphone was turned off after she said she was a victim of sexual assault. Carter said the legislators were “flouting the rules” of parliament by claiming to make points of order, and that any who made similar statements would be ordered to leave the House. Despite the warning, female MPs continued to stand. Green MP Marama Davidson was then thrown out, followed by Williams. The Guardian reports at least eight other female MPs, along with four male MPs, then chose to leave the chamber.
The actions of the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House highlight broader issues of the marginalisation and state imposed violence upon many in this country. The National government have failed to proactively engage with the issues of abuse being faced by many, including many from Aotearoa, in the Australia detention camp on Christmas Island. They also continue to reduce resources and funding to those that are victims and survivors here in Aotearoa. The National government and its Minstry’s such as the Ministry of Social Development have undermined and forced the closure of critical social services, most recently Relationships Aotearoa and Pacific Island Safety Prevention Project in South Auckland.
It has been argued for some time that issues of sexual and domestic violence cannot be addressed seriously without addressing the larger structures of colonialist violence, such as militarism, attacks on immigrants and denial of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights, police brutality, the proliferation of prisons, economic neo-colonialism and institutional racism. In order to deal with issues of sexual violence we must also deal with wider structural issues of social injustice and in particular the ways in which cultural, political and gender oppression is embedded within societal structures. What we have seen in the past few days is evidence that this government is not only falling short in ensuring the fundamental human rights of those being detained on Christmas Island, but they are also perpetuating the exact forms of institutional abuse that creates a context where violence is enabled. We should all be deeply disgusted at that.
As a Māori women’s collective, Te Wharepora Hou acknowledge and thank those women who stood to voice their stories, and those in Parliament who stood to support them. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.