Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

PM: Act leader's incest comments 'stupid'

Act Party leader Dr Jamie Whyte says the state should not interfere if adult siblings want to wed one another. Picture / Natalie Slade
Act Party leader Dr Jamie Whyte says the state should not interfere if adult siblings want to wed one another. Picture / Natalie Slade

Prime Minister John Key says Act Leader and potential parliamentary ally Jamie Whyte's incest comments are "stupid" and a distraction from important issues.

After yesterday telling the Herald he stood by them, Dr Whyte this morning back-tracked on his comments that incestuous relationships between consenting adults should not be illegal.

"I think it's pretty silly actually", Mr Key told reporters this afternoon.

"There's no place for incest, it's a ridiculous kind of statement. On the other side of the coin if I could offer him and a few others a bit of advice, the New Zealand public are interested in hearing about the issues that matter. We are focused on the economy and law and order, health and education and really drifting off into these kind of stupid statements isn't going to take anybody anywhere."

Labour MP Phil Goff said the possibility of decriminalising incest between consenting adults was raised by officials when he was Justice Minister in 2005.

"We did look at that, that was put up to me by officials and we said no we didn't think that was in any way going to be acceptable to New Zealand society and it had certain risks involved.

"It's not simply the old thing about congenital disorders but it's also about the protection of life within a family and I thought that was a factor you had to take into account and it was a lot better to maintain the laws and to not make that change so we didn't take it further."

Speaking on RadioLive this morning, Mr Whyte admitted he had regretted the comments published in an article on The Ruminator Website.

"I regret the comments, mainly because I feel I let the party down,'' he said.

In the article published on The Ruminator website, former philosophy lecturer Dr Whyte was asked whether the state should intervene if adult siblings wanted to marry each other. "Well personally, I don't think they [the State] should," he replied, adding it was "a matter of almost no significance because it just doesn't happen".

Dr Whyte initially told the Herald his response was based on his belief that: "I don't think the state should intervene in consensual adult sex or marriage, but there are two very important elements here - consensual and adult".

"I wonder who does believe the state should intervene in consensual adult acts?"
He said he was "very opposed" to incest. "I find it very distasteful. I don't know why anybody would do it but it's a question of principle about whether or not people ought to interfere with actions that do no harm to third parties just because they personally wouldn't do it."

He did not believe the increased risk of congenital disorders in children from incestuous relationships was a valid reason for it to be illegal.

"The probability of having some problem with the children is greater when the mother is over the age of 35 but I've never heard anyone suggest that anyone over the age of 35 shouldn't be allowed to have sex."

His view was not Act policy and "nobody who votes for Act has anything to fear".

Ahead of Dr Whyte's backdown, Act campaign director and founding party member Richard Prebble said he didn't see the comments as a hindrance to his task of building support for the party.

"Actually in some ways it is useful because it shows Jamie Whyte is not a politician and I don't think the public want politicians. Our enemies will attempt to distort that but I find the guy refreshing and new and I think the electorate is looking for something that's fresh and new.

"He's somebody who's very frank and so when he says things he means it. If you've got a candidate who happens to have been a philosophy lecturer at Cambridge University you can always ask him 'gotcha' questions."

Dr Whyte who was elected Act leader this month but officially takes over from John Banks this weekend said he was not prepared to avoid difficult questions like that about incest as other politicians might.

"Maybe I should, but it seems to me the people who find ways around it and avoid it are being less virtuous than me ... I would have to be inconsistent, I would have to be intellectually corrupt."

Labour MP Shane Jones and National's Judith Collins poked fun at Dr Whyte's comments this morning.

"On one side we've got Colin Craig who doesn't believe in the moon, and he's got this other guy who wants a role in deliverance," Mr Jones told RadioLive.

"What a zoo on the right."

Ms Collins said "there were bigger issues in the world" than incestuous relationships.

"It's the Act Party, and they're known for their interesting and opposite views, and they don't have to be a broad church mainstream party like ours.

"He's speaking as a philosopher, not as a parent," she told RadioLive.

- NZ Herald

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