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Palmerston North's mayor has used the first debate of this year's general election campaign to call for all political parties to work together to prevent violence against women.
Nine candidates from Palmerston North, Rangitikei and Te Tai Hauauru attended the debate, which was run by the National Council of Women.
Jono Naylor, the National Party candidate for Palmerston North, told more than 150 people at the city's library that women had the right to feel safe in their homes.
"Domestic and sexual violence is something as a society we've got to take hold of and get on top of," he said.
He called on all parties to tackle the issue together.
"If we are going to be serious about eliminating sexual and violent crime in our homes, we need to stop treating it like a political football."
Labour's Rangitikei candidate, Dr Deborah Russell, suggested Naylor check his own party's track record on the issue.
Russell said that in the Central Police District, which stretches from Horowhenua to Taranaki, there were 264 sexual assaults in 2010. In 2013 that figure rose to 380, an increase of 40 per cent.
The Government, she said, had cut funding to the support services that worked in domestic violence.
After a public outcry the Government announced $10.4 million of funding for Women's Refuge over two years, which Russell called a "drop in the bucket".
The Green Party candidate for Te Tai Hauauru, Jack McDonald, said it was only through the lobbying of Green MP Jan Logie that the Government had put up the $10.4m.
He also called on men to take responsibility for preventing violence.
The Conservative Party candidate for Palmerston North, Mike Pearce, said that if punishments were tougher, there would be a stronger deterrent to criminals.
"We want people to serve their full sentences and repay their debt to society," he said.
But the Internet Party candidate for the city, Dr Pani Farvid, said harsher sentences would not work.
Maori Party Te Tai Hauauru candidate Chris McKenzie agreed and said time in prison just trained people to be better criminals.
Farvid said what was needed was gender equality education in primary schools and national advertising campaigns about family violence.
The debate on sexual violence was in response to the first of three preset questions at the debate - what the candidates saw as issues for women in their electorate.
Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said that with Russell talking about domestic violence, he would focus on pay equality.
The Government was asleep on the issue, he said, with the gap between what men and women earned now at 10.1 per cent on average nationally.
The National Party's Rangitikei candidate, Ian McKelvie, said issues affecting women in his electorate included access to healthcare and employment.
Candidates were also asked about environmental and employment issues, before taking several questions from the floor.
- Manawatu Standard
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