28 Apr 2015

PM urged to talk human rights

6:42 pm on 28 April 2015

The Green Party is urging Prime Minister John Key, to put human rights ahead of trade in his meetings with the leaders of Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister John Key talks to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif.

Prime Minister John Key talks to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Mr Key became the first New Zealand Prime Minister to visit Saudi Arabia when he arrived there this evening (NZ time).

He, and his wife Bronagh were welcomed to the Arab State by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif.

Parliament had resumed sitting today after a three-week recess and the Greens' co-leader Metiria Turei used Question Time to question the Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, answering on behalf of Mr Key, about the Government's attitude to trade with Saudi Arabia.

"Why do beheadings by ISIL means that the Prime Minister will send troops to fight them but beheadings in Saudi Arabia means he leads a trade delegation there?" Ms Turei asked.

Mr English replied: "Saudi Arabia is a sovereign nation that conducts diplomatic and trade relationships with the whole world, including many developed countries. ISIL is a self-declared terrorist organisation."

Mr English said if the Greens could not see the difference between the two they needed to do more homework.

Ms Turei had more questions for Mr English.

"Does the Prime Minister still believe that it is acceptable for governments to lash women for being raped and behead people for being homosexual because quote 'they are taking it against their own people' end quote?"

Mr English did not agree.

"Of course it's not acceptable and trading with them is not an endorsement of the criminal punishment system in Saudi Arabia."

Mr English said New Zealand would raise human rights with Saudi Arabia, as it did with China.

John Key in Saudi Arabia

John Key arrives in Saudi Arabia. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

"The Prime Minister of course is going to conduct himself appropriately to achieve what's in the best interests of New Zealand as well as influencing the Saudi Arabian Government. Although I'd have to say, I'd have to say it's unlikely that views he holds about the issues the member raises are going to lead to significant change in the Saudi culture."

Metiria Turei was not satisfied with Mr English's responses.

"Will the Prime Minister live our values on the international stage and delay signing a free trade agreement with Saudi Arabia until they commit to meeting their own obligations under the human rights conventions that they have signed, such as the convention against torture and the convention on the elimination all forms of discrimination against women?" she asked.

Mr English said the Government would not follow the Greens' advice on this matter. Based on the Greens' approach New Zealand would have far fewer free trade agreements.

He said the Government believed in talking to countries in an effort to have some influence rather than have nothing to do with them.

Bronagh Key in Saudi Arabia

Bronagh Key in Saudi Arabia Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson