How bad is bad enough?

COMMENT: By common consent the Labour Party has handled the sexual assaults against four young supporters at a political summer camp badly. Labour's top two names certainly think so. Among their statements on Wednesday were

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

"This sexual abuse took place."

"The event was not undertaken in a safe and responsible way."

"Things went very, very wrong."

"It has become clear to me the extent of our failure to both provide a safe environment for those young people at the Waihi Summer Camp and to properly deal with serious concerns raised by several attendees in relation to sexual misconduct and alcohol."

"We failed the young people who told us they had been hurt - this failure left them feeling abandoned and I am deeply sorry for that. It is not good enough. We let them down."

"I want to reiterate that we did not do the right thing fast enough in dealing with these incidents."

"We handled this very, very badly as a party after those significant issues came to light and after the harm that was done to these young people."

"The [police complaint] option should have been made very clear and the offer of support if they chose to go to the police should have been made very clear as well."

"We are going to address their needs in the way we should have from the beginning."

"It was not appropriate that the burden of care and responsibility was left to predominantly young people."

Both Jacinda Ardern and Nigel Haworth said they stood by Andrew Kirton in a standup in Auckland yesterday. Photo: Mark Jennings 

Labour Party President Nigel Haworth:

"We gave to Young Labour leadership at that camp a lot of responsibility and events overtook that responsibility."

"We put too heavy a responsibility on our Young Labour leaders to deal with the aftermath of these incidents and I apologise for that. We need to support them too."

"We have failed in our duty of care since the event."

Their acceptance of failure and distress on behalf of the victims was unmissable. No gilding of the lily at the top level.

But among their supporters there were those determined not to take their leaders' lead and accept that Labour did not do right by these victims.

On social media some have claimed the disclosure of these sexual assaults was somehow a political attack on Labour; that National did not get intense media scrutiny over John Key's ponytail pulling or Todd Barclay and Bill English's behaviour over the taping of a staff member; that Newsroom, in breaking this news showed no concern for the four victims.

They have been shooting the messenger. They have been minimising. One even downplayed the events of Waihi as "a stuff up over basic health and safety at a Labour youth camp".

Almost everyone says the main concern should be for the victims, not the political hides of those involved in failing them. And they have a strong point. But the two factors are in large part indivisible.

They are wrong, wrong and wrong. Key was confronted with the starkest and most intense coverage of his bizarre and indefensible fetish, Barclay was forced to resign after weeks of media scrutiny. And Newsroom considered in detail the privacy of the victims in the manner in which it reported this unquestionably important story of public interest. 

With such sensitive stories it is difficult publicly to go into the background of how the issue became public. We are more than satisfied care was taken and privacy and identity issues were handled with care.

Almost everyone says the main concern should be for the victims, not the political hides of those involved in failing them. And they have a strong point. But the two factors are in large part indivisible.

Labour's general secretary Andrew Kirton has known about the assaults since four days after the camp in early February. Before the issue became public on Monday, he had a number of hours to contact the Prime Minister and/or the victims, before the story was published. He did not do so.

He claimed on John Campbell's Checkpoint programme that evening that Labour had offered for the victims to go to the police. By Wednesday he was retracting, saying the party had not been clear on that to the victims. He claimed the victims had been talked to about raising it with parents. That too is in dispute. 

He claimed professional advice was sought, implying that was soon after the assaults. The advice was sought weeks later. Offers of counselling were made only last Saturday night.

The unravelling of the initial defence does not suggest the general secretary, President or party apparatus was as supportive of the victims as it claims. There were weeks without contact. What came was too little, too late.

Despite all their comments above, Ardern and Haworth are standing by Kirton. The Prime Minister said he had acknowledged failings and was now part of the solution. Haworth said Kirton wouldn't be resigning, was a first-class general secretary and among the best Labour had had, and "absolutely has my confidence".

An independent inquiry is underway into the party's culture and handling of the event and its aftermath. Police are considering an inquiry.

But with the clear acceptance at the top that so much went wrong - for the victims, and *after* the camp - the ongoing confidence in Kirton and the attempts by some fringe Labour supporters to minimise these issues are more than a little troubling.

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