From #WeToo to #SeeYou

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - An­drea Vance an­[email protected]

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.’’

Jacinda Ardern

Nigel Ha­worth

Nigel Ha­worth, right, has main­tained he acted pro­fes­sion­ally through­out the as­sault al­le­ga­tions saga, but Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern has said ‘‘mis­takes were made’’.

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