Ardern didn’t refute all of Bennett’s claims

Jacinda Ardern sounded like she refuted claims made by Paula Bennett in Parliament on Wednesday, but she only refuted “some of those allegations” – which of course could mean that some of what Bennett said was true or close to the mark.

Stuff ran an inaccurate headline: PM Jacinda Ardern ‘absolutely refutes’ National’s claims

That’s incorrect.

And the article reinforced the misrepresentation of Ardern’s words.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is adamant she was never told about allegations of sexual assault until Monday and “absolutely refuted” claims made by the Opposition that her senior staff and Finance Minister Grant Robertson knew months ago.

National Deputy Leader Paula Bennett claimed in Parliament that Robertson and Ardern’s former chief of staff Mike Munro, chief press secretary Andrew Campbell and director of her leader’s office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations of a sexual assault by a Labour Party staffer – and therefore could not believe that Ardern had not been told.

But:

When asked about the claims, Ardern said: “Some of those allegations that I’ve heard I just absolutely refute”.

She only refuted “some of those allegations” and wasn’t specific which ones. That leaves open the possibility –  that some or most of Bennett’s allegations were correct.

And she has refused to refute or challenge or deny specific questions.

NZ Herald: Labour staffer at centre of sexual assault allegations resigns

Some of the complainants were also angered that he had been present a party events, though Finance Minister Grant Robertson has said that people’s safety had always been given the highest priority.

The staffer’s resignation is likely to be welcomed to the complainants, who said that Haworth’s resignation was a step forward but the issue of safety remained.

“We must also not forget that there is still a person facing these serious allegations in the Party, and we need to take immediate action to ensure that no more people can be harmed,” a representative of the complainants said following Haworth’s resignation.

Earlier today, Ardern would not be drawn on whether Finance Minister Grant Robertson had talked to her about sexual assault claims.

Robertson has also refused to say when he was told about sexual assault claims.

I would expect that if Robertson wasn’t told about the sexual assault claims both Robertson and Ardern would have made that clear.

NZ City: Grant Robertson says he sought assurances from the Labour Party after concerns were raised with him

But the Finance Minister won’t say whether those were sexual assault allegations against a staffer.

National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett claims Robertson – and three of the Prime Minister’s senior staff – had known about those for some time.

Robertson says he checked that issues were dealt with appropriately – but won’t confirm or deny Bennett’s claims.

Newstalk ZB: National: PM’s senior staff knew about sexual assault complaints for months

Bennett said the complainants claimed that Grant Robertson knew about the sexual assault claim and had “deep alliances” to the Labour staffer.

Robertson has not commented on what he knew, saying he wanted to respect the privacy of the complainants.

“I’m comfortable with what I’ve done in this process,” he told reporters today.

“There is a process underway with a QC where the voices of these people need to be heard. I have to respect that process.”

This has little if anything to do with respecting privacy and respecting a process being run by the Labour Party (it is not a judicial inquiry). It sounds like an excuse not to front up and be open and honest.

Back to something from the NZH article: “Grant Robertson has said that people’s safety had always been given the highest priority.”

Why would ‘the people’s safety” been given “the highest priority” at party events attended by the accused staffer and by complainants, unless it was known the staffer was facing serious allegations?

Andrea Vance:  How to make the Labour abuse scandal worse

It has been claimed that concerns were raised with Finance Minister Grant Robertson, by one of the complainants, at an event on June 30. He has not responded to questions on this.

By July 12, the complainants had lost patience, decided to go public and sent an anonymous email to several media outlets.

Just over 10 days later, general secretary Andre Anderson wrote to the complainants.

“The email to the media has had the unfortunate effect of increasing the number of people who know something about these matters, which is undermining confidentiality.  I think it would be reasonable for you to assume that the content of the email has been circulated to a number of people,” he wrote.

“I’m aware that at least one of you has been approached by one or more MPs.  But they may only know one of you and the content of the email, rather than all of you.”

He then listed “the people who I either know are aware or I’ve been told are aware”. This included Robertson, though Anderson wrote: “I don’t know how much Grant was told.”

He says that he, or Haworth, knew the following people had been told: Ardern; her former chief of staff Mike Munro; new chief of staff Raj Nahna​; chief press secretary Andrew Campbell;  and the party’s solicitor Hayden Wilson. “These people only know the basics, including [the man’s] identity, but we haven’t told them who you are,” Anderson wrote.

He then says the man, or a member of his family, had told him four other people knew. These included the man’s lawyer Geoff Davenport and E tū senior national industrial officer Paul Tolich, who also sits on the NZ Council. Wellington city councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, and Beth Houston, who works for Cabinet minister Phil Twyford were also listed – both are on the council. “I don’t know the extent of their knowledge,” Anderson said.

MPs Kiritapu Allen and Paul Eagle are also mentioned: “I don’t know the extent of their knowledge,” Anderson said. Eagle has since denied he was in the loop.

The first news reports began to appear in early August, and almost all refer to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. On August 6, Ardern spoke to reporters at Parliament and said the party would begin a review.

When asked if Labour had a culture problem, she said she couldn’t ignore the fact that complaints had been made.

Ardern has maintained she did not know complaints of serious sexual assault were reported to the party until this week.

“Monday was the first time that I saw details that a complainant had stated that they’d been sexually assaulted and that they’d taken a complaint to the Labour Party. That was the first time,” Ardern said at a press conference on Thursday.

She said when media reports first surfaced, five weeks ago, she “sought assurances” from the party and was told “no complainant had come to them and claimed to them they’d been sexually assaulted”.

She seems to have changed her language now from whether she knew there were sexual allegations to claiming she was told “no complainant had come to them and claimed to them they’d been sexually assaulted”. That leaves a lot of possibilities not refuted or denied.

Ardern still appears to have a problem here, as does Robertson.