Week in Review

Ross’ ‘toxic’ office problems raised in June

Questions are raised over why it took six months for the Parliamentary Service to intervene after concerns over the conduct of MP Jami-Lee Ross.

Staff in troubled MP Jami-Lee Ross’ Botany office first raised serious concerns with the Parliamentary Service about his alleged conduct more than six months ago, Newsroom has learned.

The first notification to the service is understood to have been in June but affected staff were put on leave only in January.

Ross, who was accused in 2018 of having bullied or harassed seven women, is now the focus of a workplace investigation belatedly launched by the Parliamentary Service and carried out by an outside organisation.

Newsroom revealed last week that the misconduct allegations against the former National Party MP saw the service place three of his four Botany office staff - two women and one man - on special leave late last month. One female staff member remains working in Ross’s Botany office. Ross denied behaving inappropriately and blamed political opponents for the latest inquiry.

The Botany allegations against Ross are understood to include bullying, rude and disrespectful behaviour, making inappropriate comments, acting in a controlling manner, and allegedly showing favouritism toward a female staff member.

The complaints are from the past year and relate to staff in the east Auckland office the MP set up as an independent MP after his spectacular falling out with National.

Newsroom has been told the inquiry began after “staff members raised serious concerns about Ross’s behaviour and conduct over the past year to the Parliamentary Service”.

One person aware of the situation said  those concerns went to the service as far back as mid-2019.

It is unknown what action was taken in relation to these issues then, but a spokesperson for the service said it moved "as soon as a formal complaint" was lodged.

It offered no comment on why initial concerns were not explicitly addressed for staff.

Newsroom understands frequent and ongoing conflict of a personal nature between Ross and a female staff member, and questions as to the cause of the tension, are among the issues raised about the situation in the office.

“It apparently got to the point where other staff, at certain times and for different reasons, were uncomfortable just being there,” one source said.

“The atmosphere became poisonous. Concerns were also being raised with the Parliamentary Service for months about the negative impact Ross’s alleged actions were having on different staff members and nothing appears to have been done about it.

“There was behaviour being exhibited that shouldn’t happen in any office, let alone an MP’s electorate office, which is supposed to be a professional work space.

“The office became infected with toxic personal drama and it’s likely that’s a major factor in why three of Ross’ staff are now on special leave.”

The Parliamentary Service would not provide information on how many staff had been employed in, and then left, Ross' offices in the past three years, directing questions on staffing to the MP.

But it said was focused on "preventing inappropriate behaviours from occurring."

"However, like all workplaces, we are always seeking to improve and are currently working on implementing recommendations from the recent review into bullying and harassment in the parliamentary workplace. This includes creating a Parliament-wide code of conduct, by which everyone working in the parliamentary workplace must abide, increasing the number of staff who provide day to day support to those working in MPs’ offices, and professional supervision, which we are progressively making available to all staff."

Ross left National in late 2018 and became an independent MP after alleging corruption by his leader Simon Bridges, and facing bullying and sexual impropriety claims by numerous women, revealed by Newsroom.

The former National Party whip was briefly detained under the Mental Health Act after going missing one night soon after the revelations he had bullied or harassed seven women – in two cases involving sexual relationships.

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