Labour Party intern programme 'got out of control'

12:30 pm on 23 June 2017

A senior Labour Party official has admitted a scheme to bring international students to the country to help with its election campaign got out of control.

Awataha marae on Auckland's Northshore.

Awataha Marae on Auckland's North Shore Photo: RNZ / Mihingarangi Forbes

The party is in damage control after some of the 80 international, unpaid interns brought in to help with their campaign complained about living in cramped and damp conditions at Awataha Marae in Auckland.

Labour leader Andrew Little said those running the programme had overreached themselves and it was an "embarrassing" situation for the party.

Labour's general secretary, Andrew Kirton, has tried to deflect the blame to the former party employee, Matt McCarten, who still works closely with Labour and organised the scheme.

Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton

Andrew Kirton Photo: Supplied

He said the party had known about the scheme since April, initially thinking it would be a smaller number of students, but only recently found out about the living conditions.

"The problem here is that is got out of control, too many people coming in and the management wasn't up to scratch."

Mr Kirton said they had moved some of the students to new accommodation, but there was still "many more to go".

He said he had only discovered in the past few days that the number of interns involved had surged.

Mr Kirton was still working on finding out whether the students were on the correct visas, but said he believed they were here on legitimate, working holiday visas.

"It was Matt's programme that he took over ... supported by the local party and as soon as we became aware of these issues we were straight on the ground."

Meanwhile, the head of the Auckland marae at the centre of the complaints about living conditions said it had been unfairly smeared for political purposes.

Awataha Marae chief executive Anthony Wilson said most interns he had spoken to had loved their stay.

He said politicians had seized on the publicity and the marae was being booted back and forth like a political football, which has upset some kaumatua.

Mr Wilson told Morning Report today the marae was not a five-star-hotel and the students were sleeping side by side on the floor - marae style.

But he said they were well looked after and many have said they wanted to stay, rather than be billeted around the country.

The Auckland marae now has security guards at its gates.

Mr Wilson said the security guards were put there by Labour to protect the students' privacy.