Labour cover-up alleged over sexual assault inquiry as president resigns

The Labour Party has been accused of a cover-up over sexual assault allegations made against a staffer, with claims that senior members of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office knew about the nature of the complaints but did not act as they should have.

The allegations from National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett follow the resignation of Labour Party president Nigel Haworth over the party’s handling of the issue, with Ardern offering an apology to complainants for the botched process.

Speaking during Parliament’s general debate and under the protection of parliamentary privilege, Bennett - who has been advocating on behalf of some of the complainants after they approached her for assistance - accused several senior employees in Ardern’s office of having known about the sexual assault allegations earlier than the Prime Minister herself said she became aware.

“These are serious allegations - the Prime Minister cannot keep her head in the sand and pretend like it is happening somewhere far, far away.”

Two victims who worked in Parliament had told her of approaching one senior staffer around Christmas time to make a complaint about the alleged perpetrator, only for no action to be taken.

Another staffer had allegedly embarked on a “witch hunt” to find the source of leaks to the media about the accused man, Bennett said.

“We are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations - all of this in the aftermath of the Labour summer camp scandal when the Prime Minister made it very clear she expected to have been told.”

Bennett told media after her speech that she believed that Ardern did not know the full extent of the allegations made by the victim, but it was “very hard to believe” that senior staffers within her office did not inform her that the claims related to a sexual assault.

Senior members of Jacinda Ardern's office are alleged to have known about the nature of the allegations made against a Labour staffer. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

Haworth's resignation earlier in the day followed days of significant pressure following a detailed account of the alleged victim’s experience published by The Spinoff. Despite initially denying that any allegation of a sexual nature had been raised during the party’s investigation, he has now fallen on his sword.

In a statement announcing Haworth’s resignation, Ardern said she had accepted his offer to step down after receiving, on Wednesday morning, some of the correspondence sent by complainants to the party several months ago.

“It confirms that the allegations made were extremely serious, that the process caused complainants additional distress, and that ultimately, in my view, the party was never equipped to appropriately deal with the issue.”

Ardern discussed the correspondence with Haworth, and while he stood by his statements on the issue - including that “none of the complaints the party investigated related to sexual assault” - she believed mistakes had been made during the process.

“Raising an allegation of sexual assault is an incredibly difficult thing to do; for additional distress to be caused through the way those 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.”

"Jacinda Ardern's highly economical with the truth and I don't think it's just her - I think everybody around her, certainly those in the Beehive, are in on this and over this as well."

Ardern said an appeal process led by a QC, established in August after Newshub revealed dissatisfaction with the party’s original investigation into the allegations, was intended to resolve the matter and provide the Prime Minister with assurances that appropriate victim support and advocacy services had been put in place for the complainants.

She reiterated a willingness to meet with the complainants and said she would arrange a meeting if that was what they wanted.

“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.

National leader Simon Bridges said Haworth's resignation was "as inevitable as night follows day", but it was clear that others would need to follow him.

"Jacinda Ardern's highly economical with the truth and I don't think it's just her - I think everybody around her, certainly those in the Beehive, are in on this and over this as well."

Ardern had done "the least possible, the latest possible, every step of the way" when she should have acted more decisively and sooner, Bridges said.

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