From #WeToo to #SeeYou
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.
Haworth should have gone weeks ago because he presided over two shocking episodes in which young volunteers have alleged sexual assault, and were badly failed by the party’s processes. Instead, he put his own career over those young people, by publicly contradicting their account of events. And, in the end, that’s what forced his exit.
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.
Just under a year ago,
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly and declared the #MeToo movement must become #WeToo. It won her glowing international commentary.
‘‘We are all in this together,’’ was the message she took to New York, but it was not the words her young flock heard back in New Zealand when they reached out for help. They got brushed off with ‘‘#SeeYou’’, not #WeToo. As the party’s figurehead, Ardern bears ultimate responsibility for their betrayed faith.
Chief among the most pressing questions for Ardern is what shape Labour’s new inquiry will take. Maria Dew, QC, an employment lawyer, will investigate, but more than a month on, her terms of reference are being firmed up. Will those explicitly state that she will
investigate the specific allegations of sexual assault? There are other unresolved issues. Ardern and the party must now be upfront about how much they knew about these allegations, and 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.’’
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 Ardern (or their staff, because they are one and 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?
Ardern learned about the 2018 youth camp assault allegations through the media, and at that time she made her displeasure very clear. Did Haworth really make the same mistake twice?
Politics is a hotbed of gossip, and there are no secrets at Parliament. Staffers, politicians and reporters trade information as a currency. It’s possible Ardern and her staff were oblivious to the stories, but unlikely. And, if it really is true, she should be asking questions about the efficacy of her key advisers.
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 to 2017 (one woman counted that she had raised concerns eight separate times).
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 yesterday: ‘‘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.
Labour Party president Nigel Haworth has resigned over his handling of sexual assault allegations.
Haworth offered his resignation to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after she read correspondence to the party confirming that the complaints were very serious.
Ardern made her displeasure with Haworth clear, saying ‘‘mistakes were made’’.
It follows reports by Stuff that a former Labour party volunteer says he raised these allegations with Haworth. Haworth issued a statement on Tuesday claiming a 19-year-old woman did not tell him she was sexually assaulted by a Labour staffer, when they met in August 2018. Haworth also said the accusation was not provided to a panel established to investigate the man’s conduct.
Ardern has repeatedly said she was not told the allegations were of a sexual nature. Stuff’s story appeared to contradict that.
Haworth has maintained he acted professionally throughout the saga, disputing claims he was told about sexual assault allegations. Ardern said yesterday harm had been done and she was taking a victim-centred approach. When asked if Haworth knew about the sexual assault allegations and had misled her, she said he maintained his position throughout and continued to do so.
The party and Haworth maintained none of the complainants went directly to them claiming they had been sexually assaulted, she said.
Despite that, she believed the process the Labour Party deployed had done harm and was unacceptable. There was no denial the party had not learnt from the summer camp and mistakes had been made again, she said.
After the summer camp a process had been put in place but ‘‘actually the expertise does not exist,’’ she said.
Despite the best intentions of the party to put a process in place it thought was supporting victims, it was clear to her that it did harm, she said.
‘‘It caused harm and that is not acceptable.’’
The issues brought to the party should have been dealt with externally, she said.
‘‘It is clear to me that the party was never adequately equipped to deal with it. We just did not have the expertise, the experience. This is a deeply sensitive matter and it is clear from that [correspondence], harm has been done. It is my job to make that right.’’
Ardern said she was now seeking advice on the alleged offender’s employment.
When repeatedly asked if Finance Minister Grant Robertson had told her about sexual assault allegations, she did not answer the question directly.
She said those involved with the investigation maintained the same position and she was leaving it with the senior lawyer brought in to look at the party’s complaints process, to look into.
Labour Party general secretary Andre Anderson said the constitution did not provide for an acting president.
Until a new president could be elected at the party conference in November, senior vice-presidents Tracey McLellan and Tane Phillips would have to step up, he said.
The PM and Haworth’s official statements
Earlier Ardern issued a statement saying: ‘‘In the last 48 hours I have read incredibly distressing reports of an alleged sexual assault involving members of the Labour Party.’’
Yesterday morning she was given some of the correspondence from complainants that had been written to the party several months ago.
It confirmed that the allegations made were extremely serious and that the process caused complainants additional distress, she said.
‘‘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 was an incredibly difficult thing to do and for additional distress to be caused through the way the allegations are handled is incredibly upsetting, she said.
‘‘On behalf of the Labour Party I apologise to the complainants for the way this matter has been dealt with.’’
‘‘I have made it clear that I want the QC led appeal process to resolve this matter. I also want to assure myself that appropriate victim support and advocacy have been put in place around the complainants and ensure the terms of reference in the appeal covers the entirety of the process.
She would be happy to meet with complainants and would take steps to make that offer available to them if they wish to take it up, she said.
‘‘I want a justice system in New Zealand where people feel comfortable coming forward and are listened to, but I also need to ensure the Labour Party lives up to that expectation too,’’ Ardern said.
In a statement Haworth said he would be resigning, effective immediately.
‘‘I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of the outcome of the appeal process into complaints about a party member, fresh leadership will be required to take forward any recommendations from that process.
I have greatly enjoyed my time as president and will continue in my lifelong support of Labour and its principles.’’
Nigel Haworth, right, has maintained he acted professionally throughout the assault allegations saga, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said ‘‘mistakes were made’’.