Key went on a tirade after being questioned by Labour leader Andrew Little, telling Little “you back the rapists”, before being cut off by the Speaker, David Carter.
“Some of the [detainees] are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers,” Key said.
“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 told Labour MP Kelvin Davis, who has said the detentions make a
mockery” of the Anzac relationship: “If you want to put yourself on the side of sex offenders, go ahead my son, but we’ll defend New Zealanders.”
An estimated three-quarters of Labour MPs walked out of parliament directly after Key’s comments on Tuesday, along with several Green members.
Key told the house and New Zealand media that he stood by his comments.
A number of New Zealanders are being detained on Christmas Island after the Australian government introduced a retroactive law requiring the deportation of overseas citizens convicted of crimes carrying a custodial sentence of more than a year. Some New Zealanders affected by the change have lived in Australia for several years and are appealing the decision to deport them.
On Wednesday, Green party co-leader Metiria Turei told the Speaker that as a survivor of sexual violence she was deeply offended by Key’s remarks: “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.”