The Labour Party has been thrown into turmoil with conflicting statements last night over whether its investigation into allegations of bullying by a party staffer had included allegations of sexual assault.
This happened as the Prime Minister yesterday effectively imposed “Brand Jacinda” on the Labour party which she said had made mistakes with its investigations into the allegations and had not dealt with them “adequately or appropriately.”
She can already claim the scalp of the President, Nigel Haworth, who resigned last Wednesday after she strongly hinted she believed he had misled her.
She has now ordered additional investigations into the one already being run by Marina Dew, QC.
But she would not directly address the question when asked whether she would expect more resignations from the party organisation.
“I’m not going to pre-empt the process,” she said.
Nevertheless, she has a major problem if she is contemplating a purge; nominations for the party offices and Council to be voted on at this year’s conference in November have closed.
The message from her press conference yesterday was clear; repeatedly, she came back to condemning the party for the way it had handled the process.
“There are no excuses for the handling of the complaints by the Labor Party, and I will offer none,” she said.
“To do so risks minimising the seriousness of the allegations that remain.
“We have a duty of care, and we failed. “
She said that from now on, she wanted to see the party take a victim-centred approach.
“Of course best practice has been lost in all of this, and it has been because first and foremost the Labour Party did not conduct a process that allowed for it,” she said.
“But now my job is to create a best practice environment where actually complainants can be heard and that we respect their confidentiality as well whilst meeting also the expectations that we are transparent about what went wrong.”
But it won’t be as straightforward as that.
By late last night a vigorous contest over the facts surrounding the allegations was being played out in the media.
All along party officials had maintained that they did not know of allegations of sexual assault when they began an investigation into the bullying allegations.
A key official, Auckland employment lawyer, Simon Mitchell, says the party’s formal investigation was not told of any sexual assault in two meetings he and two colleagues from the party’s Council had with the complainant.
He also says he did not receive two email attachments from her detailing the assault and he says he has had his computer forensically examined and that has found he did not receive the attachments.
She maintains she sent the attachments and then sent two more emails in April and May detailing allegations of sexual assault. She says she copied Party President Nigel Haworth in on those emails.
She also says that during the meeting with Mitchell on March 9 she went into details of the sexual assault and he was present and “engaged”.
But he says when she met the panel, she read from a document “when taking us through her concerns.”
“She did not provide us with a copy of that document,” his statement said.
“At no point did she say that she had been sexually assaulted or tell us about the events that are described in the Spinoff article. (This was published on September 9 and detailed a sustained sexual assault on the complainant.)
Mitchell continues: “At the conclusion of the meeting she said that she would provide me with more detailed information in the next few days.
“On June 10, 2019, I emailed the complainant following up the documentation that she was to send.
“On June 11, 2019, the complainant sent me an email with three attachments, including what she refers to as her testimony. Neither the testimony nor the other attachments contain any reference to a sexual assault on her or disclose the events that are the subject of the Spinoff article.
“On June 17 2019, after being advised of the outcome, the complainant emailed me and the other members of the panel thanking us for our hard work.”
On July 5, Party President, Nigel Haworth told the complainants the investigation had finished, and no further action would be taken.
Shortly afterwards, Newshub began what it said was a month-long investigation and on August 8, ran a story saying the Labour Party had been forced to review an internal investigation into bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault by a Labour staffer.
“It follows complaints the investigation process was botched and traumatising for the alleged victims,” said Newshub.
“ At least four people have resigned from official party roles and cancelled their membership as a result.”
Also early in August, Ardern is briefed (presumably by Haworth) on the situation.
She asks whether there are any complaints involving allegations that are “sexual in nature or physical in nature”.
She is “advised that they are not”.
It seems that not only were the complainants going to the media but were also talking to National’s Deputy leader, Paula Bennett.
She has subsequently claimed that “This all smacks of a cover-up.
“This goes straight to the top: to the Prime Minister and to senior Cabinet Ministers.”
In politics, as in chess, the ultimate objective must be to protect the king – or, in this case, the Prime Minister.
The brutal reality is that the party needs her more than she needs them. That is why they are going to have to wear this whole affair and accept that from now on Labour will have tio take a back seat to “Brand Jacinda”.