Paula Bennett speech on PM’s office involvement in assault claims

GENERAL DEBATE

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business.

The Prime Minister says she did not know there were sexual assault allegations against one of her staff members until Monday. I could go through the various media reports since 5 August and my own representation since being contacted by victims to show the inconsistencies in this, but they have already been well traversed in the last 24 hours.

Back in 2016, Jacinda Ardern wrote an op-ed about the scandal surrounding the Chiefs rugby team. She said that a resignation is not enough: “It’s the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away. But that solves nothing. After all, apologies followed by silence changes nothing, and change is what we need.”

The resignation today of Nigel Haworth cannot be, in the Prime Minister’s words, “the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away.” Yes, Mr Haworth needed to go, and it should have happened weeks ago, but what is also known is that the Prime Minister’s own senior staff and a senior Minister have known the seriousness of the allegations but have not acted.

The complainants were members of the Labour Party. They genuinely believed that the party would listen to their complaints and deal with the alleged offender appropriately, but nothing happened. It clearly has taken an incredible sense of frustration, disappointment, and disillusion for these people to come to me, a National Party MP, to try and see their complaints addressed.

These are serious allegations. The Prime Minister cannot keep her head in the sand and pretend like it is happening somewhere far, far away. It is happening in her own office, in her own organisation. She is the leader of the Labour Party. The alleged perpetrator works in her leader’s office—he works for her.

Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister was in New York at the UN, trumpeting “Me too should be we too.” Well, who knew that that meant her own office was following the path well trod by all those companies who drew a curtain over sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

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.

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.

This all smacks of a cover-up. This goes straight to the top: to the Prime Minister, to senior Cabinet Ministers, and—

SPEAKER: Order! The member’s time has expired.

https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20190911_053250000/bennett-paula-mallard-trevor


Possible of note is in Question time just before this Bennett briefly questioned Ardern.

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with the statement made by Jacinda Ardern in 2016 about the Chiefs rugby scandal that a resignation is not enough: “It’s the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away. But that solves nothing. … After all, apologies followed by silence changes nothing, and change is what we need.”?

SPEAKER: No. That question does not relate to a statement of the Prime Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she stand by her statement in the House yesterday that “we need to make sure that we have environments in all of our workplaces that meet the expectations of alleged victims, and that respond to those situations.”, and how does that correlate with a situation where the victims were barred from parts of the parliamentary complex?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she stand by her statement in the House yesterday that “we need to make sure that we have environments in all our workplaces that meet the expectations of alleged victims,”; and, if so, how does that correlate that senior male staffers in her office have known about these extremely serious allegations since at least the beginning of the year and none of these men have brought it to her attention?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer the first part of the question, yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Will she be revising her statement made to the UN less than a year ago that “#MeToo must become we too. We are all in this together.”, in light of her own office’s failure to deal with sexual assault allegations involving one of her staff members?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

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.

If Ardern “made the statement” after two complainants went to a line manger (Salmond) around Christmas time she could have a probem.

Many victims of rape

This is international, from the Washington Post, but it illustrates how devastating violent attacks and rape can have on the lives of victims:

In my twin sister’s rape, there were many victims

By Christa Parravani, Published: March 29

Christa Parravani is the author of “Her: A Memoir.”

Whether you’re traveling on a bus in New Delhi, India, or drinking at a teen party in Stuebenville, Ohio, rape, it seems, is never far. In the United States, nearly one in five women have been raped at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — most of them before age 25. Across the planet, more than one in three women will be physically or sexually abused by men.

But whatever the grisly statistics, the number of people damaged by rape is much higher. Those devastated by sexual violence against women far outnumber any official tallies.

I know this math intimately.

In 2001, my identical twin, Cara, was raped by Edgardo Hernandez, a stranger, when we were 24. It was a violent act that destroyed her. And then it almost destroyed me.

After her rape, Cara took drugs in quantities that would prove to be lethal, doses she felt she needed to help her forget. She died from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl, a pain medication, on a late spring afternoon — June 13, 2006. And even though her death was an accident, no one who knew Cara doubts that Hernandez, though he didn’t murder her, took her life nonetheless. It just took four years, seven months and 26 days.

Cara said it best from the witness stand during her rapist’s sentencing: “Edgardo Hernandez is the worst kind of thief. He did not steal my wedding rings, yet my marriage has dissolved. He did not take my legs, yet for over a year I was afraid to leave my house, to walk around in broad daylight. October 18, 2001, was the day I died.”

My sister died from a rape. She is that rape’s core victim — its axis of suffering, of torment, of woe — but she is not its only victim.

I don’t know how our mother, who raised us alone, has managed to endure. Mom was the one who bandaged Cara’s badly injured back where Hernandez bit it during her rape. Mom double-bolted the apartment door to lock us safely inside. And Mom was the one who found Cara’s body when she died. Mom was the first and last person ever to touch my sister.

But she was not the only person touched by her. Cara’s teachers at Guilderland High School in Upstate New York and at Bard College loved her. Her graduate professors and fellow students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst loved her like family. Her husband loved her, and when that marriage ended after her rape, her boyfriends loved her. These people were hurt when she was brutalized. All of them lost her when she died.

My sister once outran a mountain lion in a Santa Cruz forest. My sister wrote the draft of a novel. My sister meditated at an altar in her living room adorned with shiny plastic grapes and pictures of those she loved, alive and dead. The sound of her laugh was the purest music I knew, a certain melody that she convinced me even the dead could hear.

And she possessed a power over me. Researchers speculate that, when a twin dies, the surviving twin’s life expectancy is shortened. I barely survived Cara’s death. The agony of losing her was inescapable. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw her. Whenever I spoke, I heard her. And then, because I missed her so and wanted her back, I tried to become her.

I began to do the kinds of things that would lead me to follow her to the grave. I took drugs. I attempted suicide. I was caught in the trauma of her absence. My first marriage ended after Cara died. I played the loop of her rape in my mind, for that was the moment I’d really lost her. Now my second husband must hold me and listen to my version of Cara’s story whenever the anguish wells up again.

I survived, but it was a close call.

Cara’s rapist struck every person who ever loved her. Then he hurt every person who ever loved me. It is stunning how far the grief of rape travels — across generations. Violent acts done to us affect our children not yet born.

My daughter is 18 months old. Baby Josephine sits on my hip, pushing trustingly against me as I show her a picture of Cara and me that hangs on our dining room wall. In it, we’re holding hands.

“There’s Aunt Cara,” I tell Josephine, smiling, hoping to teach her who this important woman was. “Mama,” Josephine says, proud of herself, placing her tiny finger over my cheek in the photograph. She looks at the photograph again, at these identical women, perplexed, and then claps her hands. “Mama,” she says again, gently stroking Cara’s cheek.

“I’m not the same,” my sister often said after her rape, “but you want me to be.” Sometimes she said this so forcefully that I was frightened. But she was right. There was a Cara before and a Cara after. Her body became marked with piercings and covered with tattoos — Cara’s effort to reclaim control over it.

This isn’t easy to admit, but when Cara was learning to navigate the world as a changed woman, I pleaded with her to move on. I was uncomfortable. I found myself replacing the word “rape” with the word “attack,” sanitizing the truth. But rape gains power in the shadows. Cara said we must never look away.

What will I tell my daughter when she is old enough to ask about Cara’s rape and death?

One thing I will tell her is this: When you hear or see a story about rape or read a statistic about sexual violence against women, multiply the number of people harmed. Be conservative, if you must. Assume that two other women loved or depended on each woman or girl who was violated. So, for one rape, three are injured. And one in three women are assaulted worldwide. So, what’s that?

Three in three women are harmed.