Labour MP Kelvin Davis has confronted Prime Minister John Key over his "gutless" handling of the ongoing situation in the Christmas Island detention centre.
Riot police today moved to restore order at the prison after unrest was sparked by the death of an asylum seeker. A group of detainees staged a protest on Sunday after the death of the escapee, triggering the volatile situation.
"Prime Minister you've been gutless, you need to help the 501s," Mr Davis said to Mr Key, before being brushed aside by the Prime Minister's security.
In Parliament, Mr Key responded to Mr Davis' comments , saying, "It's not actually easy because some of [the detainees] are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers and these are the people the Labour Party are saying are more important to support than New Zealanders who deserve protecting when they come back here."
"What the Labour Party is saying is 'to hell with the rest of New Zealanders – these people should be put on a commercial aircraft and dispatched to New Zealand'. Well you back the rapists and I'll back New Zealand.
"If you want to put yourself on the side of sex offenders, go ahead my son, but we'll defend New Zealanders."
Several Labour MPs walked out of Parliament's question time today after Mr Key's comments, with Labour leader Andrew Little saying the situation on Christmas Island has revealed Mr Key's "weak leadership".
"He has failed to stand up for what’s right and his performance was a new low. He has lost his moral compass. It is a disgrace."
Earlier today, Justice Minister Amy Adams said she would be seeking assurances from Australia's immigration minister that Kiwis in detention centres won't be unnecessarily delayed if they ask to come back to New Zealand while they appeal their deportation.
Ms Adams is expected to call Peter Dutton later today.
It comes amid concerns detainees might have to wait longer than expected if they ask to return to New Zealand while their appeals against visa cancellations are heard.
Mr Key met with his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull last month and the New Zealand Government was assured Kiwis would be able to return home quickly while they await the outcome of their appeals, rather than remain in a detention centre.
Mr Key today told reporters detainees should only be waiting weeks, not months, to come back.
He received a briefing from officials about the process last night.
"These things happen quickly, but they don't happen overnight," Mr Key said.
There are a number of things that could delay someone's return to New Zealand, including the need to get a passport, or security concerns that would warrant someone requiring a charter flight.
Labour leader Andrew Little said his office had received advice from Australian authorities that Kiwis could end up waiting 20 weeks to come back.
"It clearly isn't the case that it is easy for people in this situation to just leave and come back to New Zealand," he said.
There are around 200 New Zealanders being detained across the Tasman after Australia brought in tough new immigration rules late last year.
Those rules mean anyone who has been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison will be deported.
3 News / NZN