Comment

Labour fails to learn from its mistakes

A year on from a pledge to change the party's culture and internal policies, Labour's handling of a second sexual assault scandal suggests it has not learned from its mistakes, Sam Sachdeva writes.

A little over a year ago, Labour Party president Nigel Haworth promised the party he had presided over since 2015 would change.

In the wake of claims that four young supporters were sexually assaulted during one of the party's summer camps, Haworth announced Labour had accepted all the recommendations of a review into the events.

Among them was a commitment to review or develop policies for sexual harassment and assault, bullying and the party's code of conduct, as well as introducing "a new open complaints process to enable complaints to be received and responded to without delay and with the appropriate degree of specialist advice".

Now, claims about Labour's approach to allegations made against one of its employees suggests the party has not changed as much as it should have - but its president may have to.

In August, Newshub revealed that the party had launched a review into an internal investigation against a Labour staffer over allegations of bullying, sexual harassment and worse.

A detailed, at times distressing account of one young female complainant's experience published by The Spinoff this week can be described as nothing other than an allegation of sexual assault.

Yet Ardern says she sought, and received, an assurance from the Labour hierarchy that none of the complaints made against the staffer were sexual in nature.

Haworth's statement to The Spinoff, insisting that "none of the complaints the party investigated related to sexual assault", both backs up Ardern and beggars belief, given the alleged victim's insistence that she did raise her experience with him and the panel investigating the broader allegations against the staffer.

His further comment, that the person leading the review "made it clear to the complainants that the party would never be the appropriate party to handle allegations of that nature and that they would need to be investigated by the police", raises a number of questions.

Why make that clear if there were no sexual assault allegations? Does that suggest such claims were levelled at the outset, but pushed aside?

Jacinda Ardern has reason to be unhappy with her party president. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

But that somewhat charitable interpretation would still suggest a bald-faced attempt to secure plausible deniability which Ardern would be unlikely to look favourably upon.

It may prove difficult to definitively state who is telling the truth, but there is plenty else of concern.

The woman's claim that she repeatedly tried but failed to get a copy of the notes made by the panel about her testimony - while the alleged offender told her he had read both hers and those of the other complainants - does not suggest a supportive, open party culture.

Nor does the broader lack of communication which two complainants told The Spinoff was a constant in their interactions with the party.

Stuff's revelation that complainants and witnesses had been barred from one of Parliament's main buildings without the knowledge or support of Speaker Trevor Mallard is also alarming.

In the wake of the summer camp allegations, then-Labour general secretary Andrew Kirton fronted much of the media response on behalf of the party, copping a fair amount of criticism as a result.

But it is Haworth who is the constant in both cases, and Haworth who left Ardern expressing her concern and frustration about the Labour Party's process.

The Prime Minister would not directly state that he had misled her, but her comment when asked if she had confidence in him that he had "articulated to me that he only wants to ensure he has done the right thing" smacked of damnation with faint praise.

Speaking after the complainants' concerns came to light, Ardern said the investigation had been "a test of whether or not we've now learnt from" the summer camp scandal.

It is a test the party appears to be failing - and Haworth may be the one who has to pay the price.

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