Labour's mishandling of sex assault complaints a political mess

by Jane Patterson / 14 March, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Labour

Jacinda Ardern wasn't informed of what happened at the Labour camp until it was raised by the media. Photo / Getty Images

Labour is in damage control mode.

No one disputes victims of sexual assault should be treated with respect and confidentiality, and offered the greatest level of support possible.

But the mess the highest ranks of the Labour Party have found themselves in is also about political management.

The party is now in full damage control with general secretary Andrew Kirton having fronted the bulk of the media requests, except for the Prime Minister appearing on her scheduled Tuesday morning spots.

Expect a higher-level response this afternoon as Labour goes into overdrive to show it acknowledges the woeful response in the weeks immediately following the February camp, and what it intends to do in the future.

When first alerted to serious acts of sexual assault against four 16-year-olds, Mr Kirton initially left it up to the youth wing of the party to deal with.

The upshot of that was a delay in communicating properly with the victims and bringing in professional support, just one of the failings in the way this has been dealt with.

Mr Kirton and other party officials made the call not to tell police or parents in the interests of the victims. He justified that approach by saying that was consistent with advice from specialist support agencies.

That advice was, however, received three weeks after he and other top-ranking officials - including the Party president - made no move to inform authorities or the Prime Minister.

Endorsement was then sought for the plan to "keep the circle small".

Mr Kirton's first approach to the sexual abuse support agency HELP was also only made the day after someone involved in the incident contacted Cabinet minister Megan Woods - in other words, once the circle was starting to widen.

Much has been made of whether parents had a right to know, whether police should have been contacted, and why Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was not informed.

The specialist advice is victims should decide who is told and whether they want to make a formal complaint, as bringing several people into the process can add to the trauma and stress.

Mr Kirton said they did not want to be "running around, telling a wide group of people". However, informing the Prime Minister of a major political controversy - or at the least, her Chief of Staff - would not fit into that category.

To the general public, the distinction of it being at Young Labour event or a party event as opposed to being connected to the parliamentary wing would be lost: the damage is to the Labour Party brand.

Ms Ardern, Mr Kirton and senior MPs also attended the camp and addressed the young people there, as shown by pictures that appeared on Young Labour's Facebook page.

Police have now launched an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault, which will bring greater focus onto how the event was run, and the way the whole situation was handled by Labour's top officials.

This article was originally published by RNZ.


Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of military aircraft
88389 2018-03-16 07:02:40Z Politics

Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of milit…

by Craig McCulloch

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Read more
Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close to school
88387 2018-03-16 06:55:59Z Crime

Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close t…

by Eva Corlett and Sally Murphy

Corrections says it will review its processes after it was discovered 11 sex offenders were living less than a kilometre away from an Auckland school.

Read more
Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports to New Zealand
88222 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports…

by Clare de Lore

When he arrived here from Ireland in 1960, Rodney Walshe had nothing but a suit and the gift of the gab. They took him a long way.

Read more
Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming home
88378 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming hom…

by Clare de Lore

The nomadic New Zealander who’s set his sights on space travel is no longer an alien.

Read more
How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk to celebrated jeweller
88263 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z What's on

How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk …

by Mike White

The Anarchist jeweller has a remarkable show at new Te Papa gallery, Toi Art.

Read more
A brief and brimming history of sh*t
87922 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Books

A brief and brimming history of sh*t

by David Hill

Midas Dekkers' history of faeces favours sensible over sniggery.

Read more
Is the battery of the popular Nissan Leaf degrading too early?
88392 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Technology

Is the battery of the popular Nissan Leaf degradin…

by Peter Griffin

A group of Kiwi citizen scientists claims to have discovered a problem with the battery in the world’s best selling electric car - the Nissan Leaf.

Read more
Goodbye Hamilton, hello Kirikiriroa: The growing push for Māori place names
88338 2018-03-15 09:05:34Z Social issues

Goodbye Hamilton, hello Kirikiriroa: The growing p…

by The Listener

The adoption of Māori place names may take some effort, but it's worth it.

Read more