10 Sep 2019

Labour Party members urge PM to act over sexual assault allegations in open letter

3:32 pm on 10 September 2019

The Labour Party president is readying to fall on his sword if he's found to have mishandled allegations of sexual assault.

Labour Party President Nigel Haworth.

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Nigel Haworth and senior party officials are under increasing scrutiny after a Labour volunteer claimed she was sexually assaulted by a Labour Party staffer last year.

The 19-year-old said she raised the allegation with Labour's ruling council during an internal investigation, but no disciplinary action was taken.

On his way into Labour's weekly caucus meeting, Mr Haworth was asked whether he had misled the prime minister.

"I'm making no comment with regard to the current process, I'm bound by confidentiality," he repeated several times.

He said he would not be resigning - for now.

"I'm going to look at my situation as the process develops ... if I've been found at fault I will consider my position."

Mr Haworth has also denied receiving a serious allegation of sexual assault, which was published by The Spinoff yesterday.

He said the allegation outlined in The Spinoff was not provided to either him or the acting general secretary at a meeting, or subsequently to the Labour Party Investigation Panel.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has refused to express confidence in him, pending a QC's report.

"He's [Mr Haworth] claimed to me that he will do the right thing based on what the QC report tells us, and so yes, if it finds there is wrongdoing on his part he will act on that."

She was "deeply concerned and frustrated" because when she inquired about the complaints when they were first made, she was told they were not sexual in nature.

"It has not been handled well - no question."

A QC reviewing the original inquiry and its findings will now report directly to Ms Ardern.

Ms Ardern still maintained she was not aware the complaints were of a sexual nature, saying when she read the 19-year-old's story yesterday she found it "extraordinarily distressing".

She said had asked the party direct questions about whether the any of the complainants were claiming sexual assault - "and I was told no".

"I now have a QC who is able to look into this issue, give me clarity and then I can act on that definitive advice."

An email detailing serious sexual assault allegations was sent to some media on 12 July. Ms Ardern said she had been briefed on that email but had not read it personally.

Is the man at the centre of the allegations still around Parliament?

The Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard has given assurances this week Parliament is a safe place to work and visit, as these allegations are still being investigated.

Ms Ardern said the man concerned had not been working onsite at Parliament for about five weeks.

However, that was disputed by National's deputy leader Paula Bennett, who had told media some of the complainants had seen him at Parliament, which they found very distressing.

This morning, Ms Ardern said the record of the man's swipe card had been checked and he had not used his card to access any parliamentary buildings since early August.

Open letter to the PM

An open letter to the prime minister has also been published online, from Labour Party members calling on her to take immediate action, and for Nigel Haworth to resign.

The letter said some of the group were "survivors" and others "friends and supporters".

"All of us have watched in horror as this story has unfolded, as the survivors have been repeatedly re-traumatised, and as the Labour Party has run a shambles of a process that has enabled an alleged attacker and shut out his survivors.

"This issue has been discussed for too long in secret meetings and private conversations, and it is our hope that by drawing attention to it in the light of day we will get the action that the survivors deserve.

"We are sending this letter to the Labour Party caucus, the entirety of the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party, and to all Labour Party LECs."

The letter accused the party of "enabling" sexual assault.

"Every day this enabling is allowed to continue is another day that the survivors are silenced and the alleged attacker is allowed to continue enjoying his position of privilege and authority within the party and indeed, your own office."

The letter ends with a list of requests, including an apology and resignation from Nigel Haworth, that the party take a range of steps to better equip it to deal with sexual assault, that the man at the centre of the allegations be banned from Labour Party events, and that the matter be formally referred to his employer Parliamentary Service.

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