Maggie Barry accused of bullying staff

Another MP has been accused of bullying, this time National’s Maggie Barry. she disputes the allegations. This further puts the spotlight on the pressures of being an MP, and whether some MPs abuse their power. There will always be an unavoidable power imbalance, but the important thing is that that is not abused.

NZ Herald: Former staff accuse National MP Maggie Barry of bullying

National MP Maggie Barry has been twice investigated over bullying claims this year – including accusations she expected staff to do political party work on taxpayer time, which would be unlawful.

The Weekend Herald can reveal two employees in Barry’s four-person office have accused her of bullying since May – one in a personal grievance complaint, and the other during the investigation of that complaint.

Barry concedes there were issues raised by former staff, but they were resolved “by mutual agreement” and “there was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred”.

And she is backed up by a different former staff member who said she never saw any bullying behaviour from Barry, though she added that everyone has different ideas about what constitutes bullying.

I think that is an important point. One person could feel ‘bullied’ in a situation that another person sees as a normal type of employer/employee relationship.

Here different employees have different views on how things happened.

The Weekend Herald has obtained documents which show that during its investigations in August this year, Parliamentary Service heard allegations that Barry:

• swore and yelled at staff;
• called an employee “stupid”;
• used derogatory terms about other elected officials, which made staff uncomfortable;
• referred to people with mental health issues using offensive terms like “nutter”;
• discussed her employees’ sexuality in the workplace;
• expected staff would do work for the National Party during office hours, which they felt unable to refuse while knowing it was wrong, because they were scared.

One staffer told investigators he believed there was a huge power imbalance and that Barry was “terrifying” and could “destroy my career”.

When questioned by Parliamentary Service in August, Barry denied all of the allegations.

“In particular, she disputes the claims regarding her attitude and comments attributed regarding people with mental health issues,” the investigation notes from her interview read.

“[She says] she does not use profanities and doesn’t swear or behave inappropriately… MB absolutely refutes that she expects staff to complete party work during work time.”

However, the Weekend Herald has heard recordings which appear to show Barry swearing in a work context, and others where she appears to call a local board member “barking”, one a “waste of space”, and another “a duplicitous piece of shite”.

Again, some people may see ‘colourful language’ as acceptable, others may think otherwise.

It has also seen messages from Barry – who rarely used email but instead spoke into the voice-to-text function on her phone – appearing to request political work be completed during office hours.

Examples included writing her column “Maggie’s Messenger”, where she encouraged people to vote for Northcote MP Dan Bidois, and completing a “Super Blues” brochure for an over-60s National Party conference.

A former staffer who came forward to the Weekend Herald told Parliamentary Service that, during some weeks, up to half his work was party work. Parliamentary rules strictly stipulate party work is not part of support staff’s job.

According to her interview with investigators, Barry knew it was against the rules.

But in a different recording obtained by the Weekend Herald, Barry said the opposite to the staffer the day he was due to give evidence for his co-worker’s personal grievance case.

In it she said writing brochures on office time was “legitimate”, while acknowledging the investigators would not be impressed if they found out.

“It’s how the world goes around,” she said. “You know the lay of the land.”

I think that politicians have been bending this rule for a long time. I know it has happened, but I don’t know how common it has been.

When questioned by the Weekend Herald yesterday, Barry said Parliamentary Service had looked into allegations from former staff.

“The allegations were vigorously denied and disputed and were thoroughly investigated by Parliamentary Service. There was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred.

“The issues have all been resolved professionally and by mutual agreement. I have wished the employees concerned well and so I am surprised to see they are being repeated in a partial, selective and incomplete way.”

She said she had “constructive and positive employee relationships”, and may refer the recordings of her to police.

Secret recordings of MPs (and staff as per Todd Barclay) seems to be a trend, and a worrying one.

At the time, leader Simon Bridges said he didn’t believe there was an environment of abuse and power within the party. Barry also spoke out, saying bullying behaviour had “no place” in National.

The former staffer who spoke to the Weekend Herald said hearing that had made him feel sick.

“When you’re the subject of bullying investigations it takes gall to claim that Jami-Lee Ross was a one-off, that there are no other bullies that the party is aware of,” he said.

But the staffer said the final straw for going public was when he saw his former job advertised and feeling “awful” that the next person would go through the same experiences he had.

“I just couldn’t take it. Parliamentary Service as an employer has an obligation to ensure its staff are safe. They can’t guarantee that if they recruit someone to work for Maggie,” he claimed.

He said Parliamentary Service clearly knew about Barry’s behaviour – his manager from the service had even warned him during his induction Barry could be a difficult boss.

When he later complained to the manager that he was having trouble, he says he was told to document any inappropriate behaviour – which is why he had the recordings.

Ok, maybe appropriate, especially if something serious was revealed.

The former staffer supportive of Barry, who did not want her name published, said that Barry could be “firm”, but had never seen anything resembling bullying from Barry – though she added that everyone had different definitions.

“On different days, people have different sensitivities, and people have different lines of what they can and can’t tolerate.”

She was surprised when the personal grievance case surfaced and the other former staffer stopped coming to work.

“It came as a huge shock to me that that particular person didn’t step into the office again. I was blindsided. I was told not to contact him by Parliamentary Service. I had no idea.”

She also said that new staff members sometimes mistook parliamentary work for party work, and it often took time to realise what material, for example, should and should not carry a National Party logo.

Clare Curran was exposed in Parliament this week when it was revealed one of her electorate staff gave material to Work & Income offices that had Labour logos on it.

One thing is obvious – MPs and their workplace practices are suddenly under a lot of scrutiny.

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52 Comments

  1. Mother

     /  December 1, 2018

    The more rules we have, the more there are to bend.

    Reply
    • Mother

       /  December 1, 2018

      I think that there is no end to the working out of new systems to combat harassment and the frustration only grows. Every difficult situation with people in it is going to be unique – and so this person who is left traumatised, doesn’t fit within ‘the system’. OK then, make that person be quiet. Tell that person to get over it. Then get back on the bandwagon to work it out/tweak it/create a new system, so it ‘never happens again.’ Frustration grows within communities. There are answers but those in power, or the pen pushers, make their living out of this.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 1, 2018

        My stepfather had a saying that ‘you can always sack the boss.’

        In other words, find another job.

        Being an MP must be about the most stressful job in the country, and it wouldn’t be human nature not to lose it occasionally. ‘Barking’ and ‘waste of space’ are hardly the most venomous expressions in the world.

        The staff members sound like delicate wee petals.

        Reply
  2. robertguyton

     /  December 1, 2018

    Pete, the tone of your comments is defensive of Maggie Barry. Any reason for that?

    Reply
    • I disagree (but am not surprised that’s how you see it).

      The intended tone of my comments is pointing out their are different sides to stories, and there can be different perceptions of behaviour of employers and MPs in high pressure environments.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  December 1, 2018

        Did you do that with the Labour MP when she was accused of bullying staff?

        Reply
    • Ray

       /  December 1, 2018

      I have to wonder if this is a defensive move by the usual suspects in defence of a Labour Minister who is already in big trouble.
      And who really did bully a staff member, in public, and sacked her when she complained
      Whataboutism á la the Robert Guyton playbook.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  December 1, 2018

        I suppose you think the Young Nat “inappropriate touching” event is similarly “fabricated” to take the heat off the Government, Ray. Maggie Barry’s Parliamentary staff were probably Labour moles, yes? Jami-Lee Ross is a NZ1st white-ant. Sheeeeesh!

        Reply
        • Ray

           /  December 1, 2018

          And there it is.
          Whataboutism straight from the Robert Guyton playbook.
          I rest my case.

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  December 1, 2018

            Should Pete be accused of “whataboutism” if he discusses any case other than Barry’s on this thread, Ray? You comments suggests that he should.

            Reply
    • Gezza

       /  December 1, 2018

      Pete, the tone of your comments is defensive of Maggie Barry. Any reason for that?

      I’ve just read the whole post and already formed a gut reaction preliminary view of Maggie Barry that the allegations are most likely true and that she is a bully. Employees who personally like and/or are favoured by a boss cannot or will not see that others being bullied, insulted, undermined or coerced.

      However I am always aware that my gut reaction, first impressions, can be wrong – and that I need to remain aware of this and thus challenge those first impression internally – in case my instinctive initial bias misleads me into ignoring, or giving insufficient weight, to subsequent evidence or information indicating that my initial opinion is incorrect.

      This bit is confusing, but I have not yet read the linked article which may clarify it for me:
      According to her interview with investigators, Barry knew it was against the rules.
      But in a different recording obtained by the Weekend Herald, Barry said the opposite to the staffer the day he was due to give evidence for his co-worker’s personal grievance case.

      I see no bias from PG in what he has posted. His treatment of this issue is even-handed and balanced. Your contributions virtually never are, and regularly feature personal attacks on PG making allegations of insincerity, bias, and questioning his integrity. I would ban you were it up to me as I think you are such a continual, malicious, blog disrupter.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 1, 2018

        I have just read the Herald article, and they give her a chance to put her side across…much of it seems to be making a lot out of not much. The pressure on MPs and Ministers in particular is immense. I was with one once, going to an event, and he didn’t drive himself. He couldn’t have, his phone was going virtually non-stop with work calls. This was at the weekend.

        Reply
      • Robert Guyton

         /  December 1, 2018

        You’re over-sensitive, Gezza, rushing to Pete’s aid as you so often feel you have to do. Pete can handle my polite and thoughtful questioning no sweat. Malicious? Pffffffffft!

        Reply
  3. robertguyton

     /  December 1, 2018

    “Maggie’s been a nasty bully ever since her garden show where she was a demanding entitled asshat pretty much all the time.”

    https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-01-12-2018/#comment-1556702

    Reply
  4. robertguyton

     /  December 1, 2018

    Another opinion then, for balance 🙂
    “If you are old enough to remember her garden show of a couple of decades back – there was a nice older guy with a quiet manner called Bill. Bill was actually the only one on the show who really knew much about plants or gardening. Maggie managed to deliver a constant stream of smirky put-downs of Bill.”
    https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-01-12-2018/#comment-1556708

    Reply
    • Mother

       /  December 1, 2018

      Perhaps she’s just insecure, and Bill had her measure.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 1, 2018

        Blimey, someone must have been obsessed with it if they remember all that after ? years.

        Reply
  5. It must be difficult leaving what happens in the chamber in the chamber. It would be easy for an MP to go back to their office in a combative frame of mind.

    Resolving to set a decent example in Parliament should be top of the agenda. If that is sorted then behaviour of MPs generally may improve.

    Reply
  6. duperez

     /  December 1, 2018

    Not many months and weeks back, staffers being reported as upset about the way they were being treated was an indication that their boss was out of their depth.

    Physicality in the Meka Whaitiri situation saw comments surface about staff turnover and insinuations about how she interacted with staff. The boot was put into her by those from the other side of the political divide.

    In the Jami-Lee Ross situation when there was an effort to gather evidence to condemn him, implications were made about the way he interacted with staff. The boot was being put in by those on the same side of the political divide.

    “One person could feel ‘bullied’ in a situation that another person sees as a normal type of employer/employee relationship”?

    That rationale is the sort of comment you’d get when there’s a rational discussion. It’s perfectly logical, sensible and right.

    I’m not sure why there should be a rational discussion about Maggie Barry. Because there’s (ostensibly) no major single focus point should everyone from all sides of all divides be perfectly calm and approach things with equanimity? Or treat it with ignore?

    It was pretty easy for Meka Whaitiri to become ‘Meka the Muss.’

    What chance ‘Maggie the Muss’? No chance. Maggie is the North Shore, grandmotherly, gardener.

    Reply
    • One difference is that Whaitiri was accused of getting physical, will the reported behaviour of Barry is ‘only’ verbal.

      I note that physical can range from very minor to extreme. Verbal can be worse than minor physical.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  December 1, 2018

        So in comparing Barry’s case with Whaitiri’s, your indulging in whataboutism, right?

        Reply
        • Not at all, I was responding to duperez who brought up Whaitiri. There are similarities and differences.

          I think it is important to look at the wider issue of MP behaviour in their relationships with staff. The Speaker must have been concerned about a non-MP specific issue to start an inquiry into the whole issue.

          Reply
      • duperez

         /  December 1, 2018

        I appreciate that Whaitiri point and deliberately referred to that in saying the physicality brought to light, saw surface, the ways she was said to interact with staff. If she was condemned out of hand for (my words) being a scummy boss in the way she treated staff generally, then should Maggie Barry be accorded the same opprobrium?

        Levels and degrees, minor or extreme are indeterminate and personal but judging and determining the significance is easily applied when one’s got a chair overlooking political divides. The chair (could be a saddle on a high horse!) doesn’t provide a good enough view to really see what happens and really know what it feels like to be there. In any of the roles.

        Reply
        • Ardern saw fit to remove Whaitiri from Cabinet. But Barry can’t really be demoted, except down National’s ranking (but she is already well down for a third term MP at #23).

          Reply
  7. Zedd

     /  December 1, 2018

    Maggie sounds like she is from a background of ‘privilege’ & expects to look down on others.. alongside many on the Right. I was not surprised to read her name amongst these allegations !

    As for ‘Clare’s brochures’; it was stated (by MSD Minister, Carmel Sepuloni) that they asked MSD if it was OK to put the brochures on display.. NO demands were made. they have since been removed

    Reply
    • Curran should have known that it was against the rules. It was her responsibility.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  December 1, 2018

        Yeah! Whattabout Curran! (This thread’s about Maggie Barry, yes?)

        Reply
      • Zedd

         /  December 1, 2018

        likely true PG.. BUT methinks that it may just be, a continuation of the ‘oppositions witch hunt’ against her, making a ‘mountain out of a molehill’ AGAIN !

        Reply
        • Zedd

           /  December 1, 2018

          OR is it perhaps; Natl trying to get a by-election in Sth D, by further attacking our local MP ? A strong Labour seat !

          Woodhouse still waiting in the wings…… on Natl list :/

          Reply
    • Mother

       /  December 1, 2018

      If MB was once a ‘beloved TV personality’ why were her alleged personality flaws not called out at that time? Why didn’t gentle Bill call her out? Perhaps he did, privately. Who knows? Does it matter? How does Bill feel about having his name invoked now?

      It will always be the same, no matter how much fuss is made when that one straw finally breaks the camel’s back.

      It will always be the same, no matter how intricately we perform the ‘next enquiry.’

      It will always be the same, no matter what we do.

      For example, Louise Nicholas has been a strong brave voice. But Police are still notorious for hurting victims of sexual crime.

      The more intricate the processes become, the more devious the few bad eggs become. Money thrown at the experts employed to find solutions could be better used elsewhere.

      There is way to survive and thrive as Kiwis in this scary world. The real experts are non celebrated. LN was celebrated to some degree, but I think that the more she was noticed, the worse Police became, behind her back.

      If MB has personality flaws, I wish her well in growth and learning. I am sad that her alleged victims lost out. But it will always be the same!

      Reply
      • duperez

         /  December 1, 2018

        Growth and learning? She hasn’t much to learn in some regards. Like putting together the classic dismissive PR response.

        The Weekend Herald: Barry concedes there were issues raised by former staff, but they were resolved “by mutual agreement” and “there was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred”.

        Recordings and messages from Barry the Herald has heard or seen though suggest that the veracity plants didn’t take too well in her garden, while she hopes the gullibility ones in ours are flourishing.

        Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 1, 2018

        Louise Nicholas was exposed as a lying fantasist whose actions drove one man to suicide.

        Can we really believe that she was raped every day on the way home from school* ? Or that the man who raped her when when she was 13 or 14 made it all right with her father ? Or that she was raped by policemen in every town she lived in? Or that she was happy to dance with and kiss one of her rapists at her brother’s wedding where he was best man ? etc etc etc…I saw her website ! It was even less credible than her other stories.

        * called into the police station and raped on the table…yeah, right,

        Reply
        • Mother

           /  December 1, 2018

          Wow Kitty, I hope that LN is not reading this.
          Driving people to suicide? That could hurt her.
          The P in my story drives people to despair. I can say this because I have known him for years and I know what he did to me. I have reason to believe he was implicated in a man’s suicide. I can say this too, because I love my community and I listen. But I wouldn’t want others to repeat my opinion as is so easy to do on social media. Just leave it be. I have good reasons to share my testimony.
          Driving people to suicide? Yes, my comments could hurt P if he becomes aware of them. Or it could cause more hostility toward me. Life’s a risk. We each do our own calculating.
          LN would have had good reasons to share her testimony. I think it’s a pity that it got too much attention. I hope she’s coping with the inevitable difficulties of that. I applaud her.
          There are testimonies of LN failing in her role with advocacy. It’s not surprising.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  December 1, 2018

            It hurt the man and his family to have him wrongly accused !!!

            Her website read like a bad novel. No wonder it was taken down, it would have blown any case that she had to pieces. The stories that she told anyway were so far-fetched that nobody I knew believed them.

            Her testimony was a load of lies, and the court and jury agreed.

            Who would keep going into the police station when someone called her in, if they were going to be raped every time? Raped by every cop there ? Yeah, right,

            Reply
            • Mother

               /  December 1, 2018

              ‘It hurt the man and his family to have him wrongly accused !!!’

              I’m with you there. Lies hurt like crazy.

              This sounds like a case of being a listener in your own community, and being a person with empathy. Way to go.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  December 1, 2018

              I have every sympathy with real victims, but none for liars who destroy people’s lives, no matter who they are. The boys and their mother who sent an obviously innocent man to prison in Canada have a lot to answer for. Their stories couldn’t possibly have been true…like the one where he was supposedly in Canada abusing them when he was, in fact, in the US and could prove it.

  8. Reply
  9. Alan Wilkinson

     /  December 1, 2018

    Interesting that women MPs are the target of bullying complaints. Anecdotally, women can be the worst bosses for bullying and have a similar reputation for peer group bullying in schools.

    Reply
    • Mother

       /  December 1, 2018

      That was my uptick Alan, and I’m a woman who believes in equality. I also think that most men are great. When P wrote his disgusting letter filled with mockery, spite, manipulations and cruelty I kept saying to my husband, ‘punch him!’ It’s a good thing my husband would never do that, and it’s a good thing I am not a man.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 1, 2018

        I remember being bullied in the 3rd form at an all girls’ school. Then, for some reason, I was in again and someone else was out. My life was made an absolute misery for a while.

        It wasn’t physical, but I was talked about and teased and had things done to me like two of my tormentors (or one if I was in the end cubicle) standing on the loo seats and looking over, with nasry remarks…this may not sound much, but it was humiliating, as it was meant to be. Many of the things would have sounded trivial in a complaint. These girls knew what they were doing.

        Reply
        • Mother

           /  December 1, 2018

          PCANZ leaders trivialise the complaints of everybody else, then when their victim fights back, they are most easily offended.

          Reply
  10. robertguyton

     /  December 1, 2018

    Curious comment:
    “Way back when Barry first went into politics, there was puff-piece interview in one of the women’s mags, which I thought was very revealing. She told of how her mother had been an extremely partisan rabid National Party member, and how she treated people based on that. Described her mother going on some kind of door-knock community service type activity, asking the people who they voted for, and if it wasn’t Nats, not carrying out the service to punish them. The revealing part was that Barry seemed to think that this was acceptable behaviour and told it as if it was heartwarming and endearing, rather than narcissistic and vindictive.”
    https://thestandard.org.nz/another-national-mp-accused-of-bullying/#comment-1556780

    Reply
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