Ardern, Robertson in precarious positions

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth resigned yesterday over the mishandling of bullying and sexual assault allegations, but pressure continues to build on Jacinda Ardern and the spotlight is now also shining on Grant Robertson.

In his brief resignation statement Haworth didn’t take any responsibility for his mishandling of two serious issues (the summer camp assaults and the staffer allegations, and there was no apology either.

Ardern did apologise in her statement and in standup interviews. From Jacinda Ardern accepts Labour Party President resignation:

“In the last 48 hours I have read incredibly distressing reports of an alleged sexual assault involving members of the Labour Party,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“This morning I was provided some of the correspondence from complainants written to the party several months ago. It confirms that the allegations made were extremely serious, that the process caused complainants additional distress, and that ultimately, in my view, the party was never equipped to appropriately deal with the issue.

“I discussed the correspondence with the Labour Party President this morning. Whilst he stands by the statements he has made on this matter I believe mistakes were made.

“Raising an allegation of sexual assault is an incredibly difficult thing to do; for additional distress to be caused through the way those allegations are handled is incredibly upsetting. On behalf of the Labour Party I apologise to the complainants for the way this matter has been dealt with.

But this must just be a beginning in properly dealing with this.

In question time in Parliament yesterday Paula Bennett had a short exchange with Ardern, which concluded with this question and answer:

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she stand by her previous statements that victims should go to one of their line managers and that no senior people in her office had received a complaint?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: At the time that I made the statement, yes.

That seems to have been a setup that could be a problem for Ardern. Bennett seems to have used a common trap

Shortly after in a speech in General Debate Bennett said:

I have been told by the complainants that Jacinda Ardern’s former chief of staff Mike Monroe knew about the allegations, her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, knew about the allegations, and the director of her leader’s office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations. I have been told by two victims who work in Parliament that they went to Rob Salmond around Christmas time and made a complaint about the alleged perpetrator.

The Prime Minister has constantly said her office did not receive complaints and, in fact, encouraged the victims to speak to their line managers. They did. They have told me they went to Rob Salmond and nothing was done, and we are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations—all of this in the aftermath of the Labour summer camp scandal, when the Prime Minister made it very clear she expected to have been told.

And are we really expected to believe that she didn’t know that her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, embarked on a witch-hunt to try and find out who in the Beehive was talking to the media about the allegations? The complainants certainly felt hunted and scared that he was trying to shut them up and stop them from talking to the media—classic bullying of victims, and hardly a victim-led response.

Ardern doesn’t usually attend Parliament on Thursdays but may be advised to amend her answer, or claim she misinterpreted the question. Otherwise this is likely to come up next week in Parliament.

And Ardern has more questions to answer about what she knew, and when.

Newsroom: More answers needed as Labour president departs

This is far from the end of the matter, however. Using the protection of parliamentary privilege, Bennett named several senior members of Ardern’s office who she says knew about the nature of the allegations as far back as last Christmas.

We do not yet know whether that is true (a spokeswoman for Ardern said her office had no comment to make) but it is clear that the review of Labour’s processes will almost certainly uncover a few more skeletons.

Some potential findings – that some of Ardern’s staff did know but deliberately kept her out of the loop in the interests of plausible deniability, or that Ardern did know and has been economical with the truth – would almost certainly lead to more resignations.

Even if Ardern did not know that sexual assault claims had been made, some may question why she did not more forcefully ask her party to look back over its records, given the repeated claims made by complainants through the media.

And Bennett also named Grant Robertson as complicit.

A victim has told me that the alleged perpetrator has deep alliances to Grant Robertson, that he was involved in his campaign for the Labour Party leadership, and that Grant Robertson has known the seriousness of these allegations. It is unbelievable that he hasn’t discussed this with his close friend and his leader.

Robertson is not answering questions, claiming he needs to wait for the outcome of the QC inquiry that hasn’t begun yet. Burying difficult issues in an inquiry is a well worn political tactic, but I think in this case it could be more damaging rather than burying. Things will keep coming out. And they are today.

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Labour Party president Nigel Haworth has resigned – but it’s not over

Labour will be hoping party president Nigel Haworth’s exit will cauterise the wounds. It’s political management 101: feed the media a scalp and they will move on.

But it is not yet time to draw a line under the bullying, intimidation and assault allegations that currently shame the party. There are too many unanswered questions.

Ardern and the party must now be upfront about how much they knew about these allegations, and exactly when.

It’s important for a few reasons. Firstly, so that the public can be sure that senior figures did not shield this staffer.

His identity cannot be disclosed, but he held positions of influence within the party and then through his job, with the Labour Leader’s Office at Parliament.

There are other connections – which cannot be detailed for legal reasons – but mean he held more sway than an average volunteer or apparatchik.

It is one of the reasons why the complainants were so reluctant to come forward with their stories in the first place.

One of them told Stuff:  “Abuse only happens in a vacuum, it thrives in silence. And that’s the case here. For years he was able to bully and intimidate women and have relationships with women where he was abusive.

“That was reasonably well known and yet he was still given opportunities within the party. Despite his reputation, he kept on going up the ladder.”

The party needs to explain how that perception was allowed to take root among those young people.

We need to know precisely when senior ministers – including Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern (or their staff, because they are one in the same) were informed of the allegations. And what they did about it.

Did Ardern ever ask for a copy of Labour’s internal investigation, or the subsequent review? Why not?

Ardern says she didn’t know the allegations were sexual until this week. That’s hard to swallow.

An email sent to media outlets and others on July 12 very explicitly references allegations of extreme sexual violence. The first media reporting of the scandal, on August 5, details that some of the complaints were of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Is she saying that she wasn’t aware of these?

For the same reasons, it’s hard to accept that senior figures within the Labour party machinery had no inkling of concern about this man’s behaviour. The complainants say they flagged it with a number of senior figures going back as far as 2017 (one woman counted that she had raised concerns on eight separate occasions).

The branch that he was involved with is one of the party’s more influential, and its members certainly hold more access and sway with MPs and officials than others.

Was the party really blind to these allegations?

And then there is the shambolic internal investigation. Haworth has carried the can, but the decisions were not his alone.

The party’s ruling council decided the process. Why did they believe an internal inquiry, with no expert guidance, was appropriate?

Did the investigation panel ignore the more serious allegations of sexual assault, or not take them seriously?

Who decided the Labour staffer could bring his lawyer, when the complainants were denied legal representation?

And why were the complainants denied the right to see the final report? They have never had an explanation as to why their stories weren’t believed.

Ardern said on Wednesday: “It is my job to make that right.”

She and the party can start by being absolutely transparent with the public about these shocking events. Otherwise, abuse continues to thrive in silence.

Ardern has a big and urgent job to be seen to make this right. And I don’t think Robertson can keep hiding his involvement behind the next inquiry.

The Nation – Jacinda Ardern on brave leadership

On Newshub Nation this morning: Prime Minister talks about brave leadership as she sits down with in one of her final interviews before her maternity leave

This interview focussed mainly on criminal justice and the 3 strikes strike out this week.

Prime Minister

“Ultimately, we’re all united in the fact that we don’t want to see more victims, and the best way to prevent people becoming victims is to reduce the number of offenders we have in the first place.”

On our prisons being a ‘moral and fiscal failure – “What we’ve been bold enough to say is, ‘What does right look like for New Zealand?’ Because we are not the US, and yet our numbers look pretty close to the United States’.”

On the possibility of being a one term Govt -“We need to bring people with us. That’s the whole point. If you end up being a one-term government as a consequence of changes you’ve made, you probably haven’t brought people on that journey”.

On prison reform – “When we have a static crime rate but an ever increasing prison population, is that the kind of country we want to be?”

Maggie Barry nastiness

Maggie Barry is copping some criticism for taunts she made in parliament yesterday. Barry can be a strong and intelligent speaker, but I don’t think this was smart.

MP snipes at Labour rival’s lack of children

Ms Ardern was asking people if they “preferred coal or children”.

“Stop subsidising heavy polluters and we can back kids. Build one less road of national significance and we can help kids and their families,” she said. “This Government has proven that their priority is not children.”

Ms Barry:”How many kids do you have?”
And later: “Don’t be so precious, petal.”

Labour MP Trevor Mallard later wrote on his Twitter feed: “Shame on Maggie Barry … Women parliamentarians should know better than to criticise each other for not having children.”

Speaking after the debate, Ms Barry, who had her only child in her late 30s, said: “I am not apologising for it. I don’t think it’s a very sensitive issue. Jacinda dishes the dirt as much as any.”

Barry is right, Labour can do it dirty too, but that doesn’t excuse her for unnecessary nastiness like this. Nothing is gained and respect is lost for the taunter.

I agree with Mallard’s statement on it (but there’s  more than a touch of hypocrisy from him on MP standards).

The Herald points out “Ms Barry, who had her only child in her late 30s” was speaking on Adern’s 32nd birthday.

There is also a poll on this at the herald: Was Maggie Barry’s comment to Jacinda Ardern out of line?

  • No, I agree Jacinda is being ‘precious’ – 28%
  • It was a bit below the belt – but to be expected in politics – 17%
  • I don’t really care – 10%
  • It was a bit catty – 12%
  • It was totally out of line and Jacinda deserves an apology 33%

(As at 2150-2200 votes)

Back Benches – sad to see the end #2

Back Benches had it’s final last night, I’ve already posted on it: Back Benches – sad to see the end #1.

But there is another sadness I want to keep separate from that tribute. Some of the MP and audience behaviour was, sadly, inappropriate.

Sad note #1

Clare Curran started on Twitter before the show began:

Peter Dunne has a cheek turning up to #backbenches how’s he going to spin it? #SaveTVNZ7
How can the National Govt and @PeterDunneMP justify killing off such a fantastic channel #SaveTVNZ7

Curran has a cheek. Perhaps she’s annoyed she didn’t get invited on for the fianl panel. Peter Dunne was invited to be on the panel, so why shouldn’t he “turn up”.

Dunne has been a vocal supporter of TVNZ 7. I’m not sure what more Curran expected of him.

Curran has been campaigning hard to retain TVNZ 7 – but this has been over the past couple of months, when the close of the channel was inevitable. So her campaign has been far too late.

Curran has put forward a Member’s Bill to try and save TVNZ 7, but this only happened in the last few weeks, and there hasn’t even been a ballot for Member’s Bills since. It appears to be a “Look at me! I’m doing something!” – but far too late. If she was serious about saving TVNZ 7 this shouldn have been tried a year ago.

Sad note #2

The crowd at Back Benches has become more partisan, and at times very disrespectful. This was evident at the start last night, as described by David Farrar on Kiwiblog-  The final TVNZ7 Backbenches:

So many good things about Backbenchers, and I will miss it. But there were two or three issues which did detract from it.

The first is the behaviour of some in the audience. We saw this tonight where they booed and hissed as Peter Dunne got introduced. I will heckle (hopefully something humourous) an MP when they say something worth heckling, but would never ever boo or hiss an MP – as would be the case for most people.

But the partisan activists who regularly jeer, boo and hiss those they disagree with did the show a dis-service. And if no other broadcaster does pick up the show, then I happen to know their behaviour has been an element in that. Certain broadcasting executives have commented on some of the appalling rudeness.

It was a rude beginning to the programme. Shame.

Sad note #3

The show always ends with the panellists giving a final word with “I’ve been thinking”.

Peter Dunne was first, and he paid tribute to Back benches and TVNZ 7. Similar sentiments were expressed by some of the other panelists.

Jacinda Adern had the final word. She paid tribute, but then chose to address Peter Dunne and asked him to use his “balance of power” vote to save TVNZ 7. How the heck does she expect him to do that? He is not responsible for not renewing funding for TVNZ 7 – a Labour government put a limited timeframe on funding and National chose not to extend it.

There has been nothing in parliament for Dunne to support. The shutting down of TVNZ 7 is not his responsibility, as far as I can see. I suppose he could have not supported the budget because it didn’t include funding, and that may have broiught down the government. I guess that’s what Adern wants, and she doesn’t care about how ludicrous that would have been.

What was Adern thinking? I doubt she thought it through much if at all. She often speaks in repeat stock phrases, so saying something thoughtful may be difficult for her.

I’ve been thinking – that some Labour MPs (and some supporters) spend far too much time on petty and thoughtless politicking, and not enough time being thoughtful.