Ardern promises further probe of sexual assault allegations

Ardern promises further probe of sexual assault allegations

Jo Moir
Wellington, September 17, 2019

Jacinda Ardern at the post-Cabinet media Conference yesterday (RNZ Picture by Dom Thomas)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that the Labour Party will conduct two separate inquiries into sexual assault allegations.

As a part of that the scrutiny of Labour Party officials, and potentially Prime Ministerial staff and ministers, has been broadened.

In addition to the original QC review, the Prime Minister has outlined a further review, to be carried out by an independent third party, as she continues to deal with the fallout of the sexual assault allegations scandal.

But the terms of reference, and potentially the resulting reports, will not be made public.

Ms Ardern has been under fire for how Party officials and senior politicians have responded to allegations against a former staffer, ranging from bullying to serious sexual assault.

The staffer has quit his position in the Leader’s Office, and maintains his innocence.

No excuses, further probes

Ms Ardern said that there are no excuses for the handling of the complaints by Labour Party.

“We have a duty of care and we failed in it. But if this can happen in my Party … then this can happen anywhere. Mistakes have been made, it is now my job to address that,’’ she said at her weekly Post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday.

Shortly before Ms Ardern fronted media, one of the Party officials, who was on the original Investigating Committee went on the offensive over allegations made about his role.

Simon Mitchell, who was on the Panel, has engaged a computer expert to prove he never received sexual assault allegations.

Ms Ardern leaves the country today on a two-week trip to Japan and New York, but is trying to dampen down the controversy before she goes.

OC to investigate

The QC brought in a few weeks ago by the Party will now focus solely on the complainants and their complaints.

Ms Ardern said the Party’s lawyers have already looked at how officials conducted an earlier investigation of the allegations.

“They will now hand that report over to an independent third party reviewer, who will establish a statement of facts around the party process and what complaints were received. Ms Ardern was asked if any of her staff, or government ministers, will be included in that review.

“I expect that all those required will participate and engage fully in the second of those processes, so that’s the one that will be undertaken by a third party reviewer.’’

Meeting with Victims

Ms Ardern also announced she would meet with the complainants, alongside two experienced victim survivors’ staff, who are in the process of contacting the complainants at the moment.

Labour MP Poto Williams, who has experience in sexual and family violence work, will lead a process looking at the whole party’s culture ahead of the annual conference in November.

Ms Ardern said it is time to take this out of the media spotlight.

“My view is that at this point we need to focus the process on the complainants. Continuing to prosecute this case in this manner does not help those complainants. We’ve now created a place where they can be heard.’’

National attacks

But National Deputy Leader Paula Bennett said the prime minister’s words are “hollow” and that it was clear she still has no control over the situation.

“On the very afternoon that the Prime Minister has gone out and just announced that she has got these two processes underway and that she’s going to show all of this respect to the victims, one of her own council members that was involved in those decisions has made a statement that is very much victim blaming, and yet again hangs those victims out like that.

“The Prime Minister said she’s taking control, she’s going to right the wrongs, and literally within 24 hours [of agreeing a process] one of her own Labour Party council members has gone out there, defied that process,” Mrs Bennett said.

Jo Moir is a Political Reporter at Radio New Zealand. The above story Report and picture have been published under a Special Arrangement with www.rnz.co.nz

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