23 Oct 2018

National defends handling of woman's complaint against Jami-Lee Ross

4:42 pm on 23 October 2018

The National Party president is defending his handling of a complaint laid against former National MP Jami-Lee Ross.

National Party President Peter Goodfellow.

National Party president Peter Goodfellow defends the way he dealt with a woman's complaint about former National MP Jami-Lee Ross. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

This comes as Opposition leader Simon Bridges promises to look into workplace and internal party practices to ensure women feel safe.

After unleashing a volley of allegations against Mr Bridges and National last week, Mr Ross was reportedly taken into mental health care over the weekend.

He denies claims against him of harassing and bullying four women, but has apologised to Katrina Bungard, a candidate for National in Manurewa last year.

Mr Ross admits he did not treat Ms Bungard well during a local body campaign his wife was involved in.

In 2016, National Party president Peter Goodfellow and a woman who complained about Mr Ross' behaviour struck an agreement to resolve the situation.

On his way into National's weekly caucus meeting today, Mr Goodfellow denied using a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and defended his handling of the complaint.

"We haven't used any NDAs. That matter was a private matter and they wanted confidentiality, so they both agreed that it would be kept confidential," Mr Goodfellow said.

"That's the only instance that I'm aware of in my time as president that we've had an issue like that and it's certainly the only time that the parties have requested confidentiality."

When asked why Mr Ross was allowed to run for election in Botany last year given the earlier complaint about his behaviour, Mr Goodfellow said the matter was simple.

"It was a matter that was raised by a couple of people and was dealt with - and actually to the satisfaction of the parties," he said.

"We acted quickly and helped them to resolve the differences and move on."

Mr Goodfellow said he did not later tell Mr Bridges, despite the National Party leader's plans to promote Mr Ross within the caucus.

"That was an issue that had been dealt with at the time - so no."

Mr Bridges defended his handling of the leak inquiry, and the subsequent naming of Mr Ross, saying he has made the right calls for the right reasons in "difficult circumstances".

"My priority now of course is those who have been hurt - including Jami-Lee Ross," he said.

Mr Bridges was asked what he knew about Mr Ross' current situation and what happened over the weekend.

"I didn't know about that until after the event," he said.

"I've been given some second hand accounts but look I wouldn't comment on them."

Nor would Mr Bridges comment when asked if he was concerned someone else in the National Party had been involved in Mr Ross reportedly being committed to a mental health facility.

"No I'm not, I think this is a matter... for the relevant authorities, whether that be police ... they can answer as they see appropriate."

Mr Goodfellow said he only found out about Mr Ross' mental health issues very recently, while Rodney MP Mark Mitchell said he checked in with Mr Ross about three weeks ago.

"It was purely a welfare check to make sure that he was actually going to be okay," Mr Mitchell said.

"Actually my focus too has been making sure that Lucy his wife and their kids are supported as well."

Mr Bridges has ordered an inquiry to make sure women are feeling safe in the workplace.

"A number of people, a number of women have been affected here.

"And so I'm going to make sure that I talk to parliamentary services this week, to make sure women feel absolutely safe in the workplace and they feel they can confidently come forward on all matters.

"I also want to make sure that we are doing the same in the party in terms of volunteers, candidates, staff - that we are getting independent advice to make sure we've got the best systems and processes."

It was unlikely the findings of the internal review would be made public, Mr Bridges said.

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