National MPs are speaking out against Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March for referring to police dogs as "attack dogs", which Judith Collins described as "a disgrace".
But the Green MP told Newshub the "outrage over terminology that accurately describes a purpose of police dogs is a distraction of the reality that our criminal justice system is broken" and National "ought to be focusing on issues that matter to New Zealanders".
Menéndez March made the remarks in Parliament on Wednesday as MPs debated National MP Matt Doocey's proposed law change to increase the penalty for killing a police dog from a maximum of two years in prison, to a maximum of five years.
"I'm not saying this is the biggest Bill around - this isn't going to change the fabric of New Zealand - but what I'm doing is bringing the voice of people I represent, and this is the right thing to do for New Zealand's Parliament tonight," Doocey told the House.
"Gazza, the dog this Bill was based on, was the seventh dog that we've lost in the line of duty since 1972. Twenty-four police dogs have died in the line of duty."
But Labour and the Greens don't seem convinced.
Menéndez March, speaking on behalf of the Greens told the House that with "no pun intended", Doocey's legislation was "nothing short of a dog-whistle".
"It is highly unlikely that increasing the penalty for killing a police dog will actually reduce instances of this crime," he said. "Addressing the issue of violent crime doesn't come from imprisonment; it actually comes from addressing the determinants that lead people to commit crimes in the first place."
Referring to an article by Mark Hanna titled 'We need to talk about police dogs', Menéndez March said: "Despite being used at only 6.9 percent of incidents in 2018 where police used force, attack dogs actually caused more than half the moderate and serious injuries inflicted by police that year."
National MP Tim van de Molen asked: "What's an attack dog?"
"It's a police dog that is used to attack," Menéndez March replied. "We have to make it clear that the purpose and the use of these dogs ultimately results in harm."
Police data obtained by RNZ last year showed mental health or emotional distress factored in almost a quarter of cases where police dog bites resulted in hospital treatment.
"We know that ultimately, Māori were disproportionately affected by this," said Menéndez March.
Van de Molen shot back: "So they're racist dogs too?"
Menéndez March said dogs "may not be racist, but our criminal justice system and prison system is", and Doocey's legislation will "just not address any of these issues".
National MP Simeon Brown said on Twitter Menéndez March's description of police dogs as "attack dogs" was "awful", while National leader Judith Collins said it was "a disgrace".
Menéndez March didn't directly respond to the backlash on Twitter, but posted a picture of a dog captioned, "Good morning to all the good boys."
Labour MP Ginny Andersen also spoke against Doocey's legislation in Parliament, saying while he had said some "really good things that connect emotionally, I fail to see what the actual problem that this member's Bill attempts to fix is".
Andersen said Labour would not support the legislation.
ACT MP Nicole McKee rose in support of Doocey's Bill, but suggested it be amended to include all service dogs.
"ACT would howl in approval!"
Doocey's Bill isn't the only canine-focused law on Parliament's agenda.
Menéndez March had his Member's Bill pulled from the ballot on Thursday. His Bill would mean that discriminating against someone for having a disability assist dog is the same as discriminating against them on the basis of their disability.